Brazilian Cinema Opens Up to African Heritage

Helene Louvart/Dezenove Som e Imagens

In 2018, just 4% of funding applications for Brazil’s Fundo Sectorial do Audiovisual came from black filmmakers. This year, the two biggest Brazilian movies at Berlin, competition entry “All the Dead Ones” and Panorama player “Shine Your Eyes,” throw sharp focus on Brazil’s majority black community.

That’s no coincidence. Brazil has an extraordinary 13 features in major Berlinale sections, 19 films overall, an all-time record making it Berlin’s fourth-largest national presence following Germany, France and the U.S.

Explanations cut several ways. For Brazil, this year’s Berlinale presence marks a long-term revolution. Last century, Brazil remained largely turned in on itself, cut off from the rest of Latin America by its Portuguese language and own massive market.

Cinema was the same. “At the turn of the century, very few filmmakers — Caca Diegues, Walter Salles, Fernando Meirelles — looked to secure festival berths,” recalls André Sturm, who launched Brazilian export board Cinema do Brasil in 2005. Subsidizing festival attendance, it brought a sudden flood of largely young Brazilian producers to major markets, “teaching them the international arena and co-production as a source of not only money but market strength, and to network with the international industry,” says Sturm.

Simultaneously, film-TV agency Ancine powered up production-distribution funding, its Audiovisual Sector Fund (FSA) collecting 38 million real ($8.8 million) in 2007, $167.6 million in 2018, as Ancine established minority co-production funds, encouraged industry decentralization, and prized films of “artistic innovation and relevance.”

The legacy of such actions can still be felt in Berlin’s 2020 Brazilian lineup.

Nearly half of the major section movies are international co-productions, three at least as minority partners, financing movies made elsewhere.

Many Brazilian films are set outside Brazil — in a spectral Colombia (“Los Contactos”), middle-class Argentina (“A Common Crime”), Algiers during its Revolution of Smiles (“Nardjes A.”), Patagonia, Montevideo and the Philippine mountains (“Window Boy Wants to Have a Submarine”) or Brazil’s provinces, such as Goiá state (LGBTQ sexual thriller “Dry Wind”) or bedraggled Amazonia (“Amazon Mirror”).

“Diversity is one of the great qualities of Brazilian cinema. Films of international appeal are not only shot but produced in different parts of the country,” Sturm says.

Even though a Sao Paulo thriller, the protagonists of Matías Mariani’s “Shine Your Eyes’s” are two African brothers.

“One of the unforeseen consequences of our current democratic crisis is that we’re noticing that Brazil is not special, that what is happening here is happening all around the world,” Mariani says.

“Brazilian cinema has always been quite self-referential. We filmmakers are taking this opportunity to widen the scope of what qualifies as a Brazilian movie, to establish narrative connections to other parts of the world. This will have a long-lasting positive effect on our craft.”

“Berlin has a long history with Brazilian cinema, it’s part of the festival DNA, a relationship built over the years with producers, directors and different talents,” says Panorama head Michael Stütz.

Also this year, Berlin wanted to take a stand against the government’s threat to cinema, says fest artistic director Carlo Chatrian, pointing out that “Bacurau” director Kleber Mendonça Filho serves on the main festival jury.

Soon, however, the festival “discovered a whole host of Brazilian titles worthy of selection,” he adds.

Made largely by a new generation of cineastes — 10 of the 13 titles in main sections are first or second features or fiction debuts — iconoclastic, combative and eye-opening, playing with genre and pushing gender, racial and cultural diversity, the films are close to Berlin’s selection sensibilities, Chatrian says.

“Brazil has a vibrant cinema and culture. We wanted to make it one of the festival’s highlights,” he told Variety.

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