The takeover of the Brazilian Cinematheque

Maria Bonomi, The Bridge, woodcut, 180 x 268 cm, 2011.

The takeover of the Brazilian Cinematheque


The crisis of the Cinemateca Brasileira and the many efforts to ensure its reopening

On August 7, 2020, more than one hundred supporters gathered in front of the Cinemateca Brasileira (CB) in São Paulo. There, members of the Brazilian Federal Police, armed with machine guns, accompanied government representative Hélio Ferraz de Oliveira, acting head of the Audiovisual Secretariat (SAv), to collect the keys to the institution from Francisco Câmpera, director of the Roquette Pinto Educational Communication Association ( ACERP), which was officially hired in March 2018 by the Ministries of Education and Culture to manage CB operations.[1]

In December 2019, less than a year into the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, which began with the dismantling of the Ministry of Culture, the government failed to renew the contract with ACERP. New proposals for the management of the Cinemateca Brasileira (CB) were supposed to be considered in February 2020. This did not happen, nor did the government agree with ACERP's emergency proposal to ensure the continuity of CB's operations and security until a new organization could be named.

In February 2020, floods in São Paulo hit one of the units of the Cinemateca Brasileira, which lost more than one hundred thousand DVD's, film rolls and book collections due to water damage. In May 2020, ACERP announced that it had not received, since December 2019, government funds to maintain utilities and staff salaries, and to support the institutional mission as a national center for the acquisition, preservation, documentation and exhibition of Brazilian audiovisual materials. This mission also involved projects and services in the areas of audiovisual research and information technology.

One week after the tense delivery of keys, ACERP was forced to dismiss the remaining members of the initially sixty-two technicians at the Cinemateca Brasileira (CB), who went four months without pay to protect the materials, in particular the nitrate and acetate collections. , who needed strict temperature control and regular checks. Security and general maintenance personnel were dismissed until warnings of the possibility of fire and other dangers threatening to destroy the entire collection were issued. In response, the government hired a small, untrained staff for basic services, including cleaning, fire prevention and security.

Although Oliveira assured a group of officials at the handover in August that a new management organization would soon be appointed, repeated promises in this regard have yet to be fulfilled.[2] What hangs in the balance is Brazil's extensive audiovisual memory – a legacy that dates back to the turn of the 2016th century. Parts of that memory had already been erased by four nitrate warehouse fires, the last one in 2018. Over the last few years, cuts in specialist personnel and untrained replacements have put CB's health and well-being in jeopardy. The current worrying scenario is far from unique. In XNUMX, a significant portion of the national heritage went up in smoke when the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro burned to the ground. Their losses included irreplaceable artifacts that documented the history of Brazil's indigenous population and its rich heritage.

The potential losses at Cinemateca Brasileira (CB), the largest audiovisual center in South America, are significant: more than 250 thousand rolls of film are at risk, representing around thirty thousand titles, and approximately one million documents. Archives of great directors such as Glauber Rocha, Carlos Reichenbach and Ana Carolina; film companies like Atlântida and Vera Cruz; the government agency Embrafilme; and CB founder Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes are among the many housed there. The Cinemateca Brasileira's wide collection of newsreels includes news from TV Tupi, the first Brazilian open television network, created in 1950. Its conservation work and its preservation facilities are recognized worldwide, with the digital capacity of, alone, enabling the transformation of 8mm, 9.5mm, 16mm and 35mm film in HD, 2K, 4K and 6K. Digitized materials include 6.322 films, 3.834 Brazilian and international film posters, 53.381 production photos and 24.354 other items ranging from TV Tupi news scripts (1950-1980) to all editions of the prestigious newspaper Film Culture, first published in 1966.[3]

Figure 1. Headquarters of Cinemateca Brasileira. Image courtesy of the author.

Occupying an area of ​​more than 23.200 square meters, CB headquarters has two cinemas; one coffee; a research library; four rooms with temperature control, two for color films and two for black and white; four rooms in a separate area for nitrate films, each with a capacity of 13 rolls; more office and display spaces. Separate areas contain deteriorated film, film prints for exhibition, and the vast video and digital collections. There are also laboratories with equipment for conservation and preservation. An outdoor screen measuring approximately 5,5 by 35 meters offers digital and XNUMXmm film projections. All this and more was taken away and locked up by a sick government, with no signs of release, despite protests, festival manifestos, editorials, letters and petitions by the hopeful, yet increasingly anxious, film community in Brazil and the world. The properties and extraordinary works of this renowned institution, which has been held hostage for misleading political reasons, have been denied to the Brazilian and world public.





Figure 2. Installations at the headquarters of the Cinemateca Brasileira, including (a) one of two cinemas, (B) the video and digital vault, (C) the main vault, and (D) the nitrate vault. Image courtesy of the author.

A very concise history of the Brazilian Cinematheque

CB's history is a tangle of ever-changing private organizations, government ministries, political disruptions, and disastrous accidents.[4] Most researchers who write about the Brazilian Cinematheque consider its origins to be post-World War II, with the founding of the Second Cine Clube de São Paulo in 1946, although the short-lived First Cineclube de São Paulo, which had been started in 1940 and banned in 1941 by the right-wing Estado Novo government of Getúlio Vargas, is repeatedly cited as foundational. In Brazil, despite practitioners and enthusiasts of all political persuasions, film culture is on a rocky road any time the right is in power. Through the Vargas dictatorship (1937-1945) and the later right of the military regime (1964-1985), a watchful eye was kept on non-governmental film productions, and censorship and repression were regularly practiced by agencies such as the Department of Press. and Vargas Propaganda.

The banning of the first Cineclube is undoubtedly related to two of its founding members, Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes and Antonio Candido, who were members of the Democratic Socialist Union and active in the anti-Vargas Radical Group for Popular Action. A young activist, Salles Gomes fled Brazil in the late 1930s, spending two years in Paris, most of the time in cinemas and the French cinematheque, which were instrumental in his evolution into Brazil's greatest film critic and advocate. staunch member of the Second Cineclube of São Paulo.

In 1949, Segundo Cine Clube, a private entity, signed an agreement with the newly created Museu de Arte de São Paulo to establish the Film Library of the Museum, also a private entity. Between 1949 and 1956, the Film Library was actively collecting materials in order to preserve as many Brazilian films as possible, from their earliest days, along with a selection of international films. Returning to Paris in 1946, Salles Gomes built relationships between the Segundo Cineclube/Filmoteca and the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), for which he was elected vice-president in 1951. (The Filmoteca became a member of the FIAF in 1948). Back in Brazil in 1954, he took over the directorship of the Filmoteca while continuing to have close ties with FIAF, whose donations, along with the Filmoteca's own collection, expanded the growing archive of over 182 meters of celluloid beyond the space it had available at the Museum.

It was also apparent by 1956 that there was a difference between the museum's interest in showing films and the Film Library's desire to become a full cinematheque, which requires both state and federal support. In 1956, the Filmoteca left the museum to become the Cinemateca Brasileira, an autonomous institution whose administrative center and majority collection, including the rare nitrate films, were moved to a commercial building in downtown São Paulo; other parts of its large collection were stored by the city.

During the hot summer of 1957, a fire ripped through the highly flammable nitrate stockpile, destroying a third of the CB's film stock, along with its library of books and recordings, treasure troves of documents, and camera collections. Almost his entire collection of films and prints for use in film clubs and other venues was lost. Also lost were the documents donated by Alberto Cavalcanti, who left England to head the short-lived Hollywood studio Estúdio Vera Cruz (1949-1954) in São Paulo. The CB received donations of films, books and other materials from all over the world, as well as small amounts of money, while maintaining its operations with funding from film courses and film screenings in the city and beyond. Its administrative center and remaining archives were relocated to the areas of a building and storage spaces in Parque Ibirapuera, one of the largest urban parks in Latin America. In 1961, CB changed its legal status to that of foundation, which allowed it to receive funds from the state of São Paulo. The following year, the non-profit Sociedade Amigos da Cinemateca (SAC) was formed to help fund CB activities and projects, which it continued to do during the current fiasco.[5]

Without a house under one roof, without secure storage for its collections, and with the inevitable ruin and fluidity of state and municipal funding, the Cinemateca Brasileira struggled. Still, she continued to be active in acquisition and display. The 1964 military summit that overthrew the democratically elected president João Goulart (1961-1964) was not good for the “living culture” of institutions such as CB, whose events attracted large and discerning audiences. The newly created University of Brasília, with top professors, was invaded by the military in 1964 and 1965; fifteen faculty members were dismissed as subversives, and 223 of the remaining 305 members resigned in protest. One of the fields that was developed there, and which consequently lost to this tragedy, was the audiovisual field under the direction of Salles Gomes, director Nelson Pereira dos Santos and film critic Jean-Claude Bernardet. The passing of AI-5 in 1968 by the military right, which reached a successful summit with the government that year, suspended all constitutional rights. Police and military torture of suspected dissidents became prevalent. In 1969, the Cinemateca Brasileira lost part of its collection due to a fire caused by self-igniting nitrate.

Those dark days lasted for years, until the political opening in the late 1970s and the return of democracy in 1985. The main activity of the Cinemateca Brasileira in its modest base in Ibirapuera Park was to provide films for exhibitions in cineclubs. Filmmaker Roberto Gervitz remembers going to CB Fridays in 1974 as a teenager to pick up movies for his high school film club.

I wondered how the Cinematheque could function in such a precarious, humid and cramped space. The small room for watching the films had a couple of old chairs, if I'm not mistaken, from a cinema, and there the kind and patient Seu Aloísio [Pereira Matos], a longtime employee, handed me the rolls of films, asking for your timely return.[6]

The death of founder and leader Salles Gomes in 1977, aged 60, was a devastating blow.

There were some breakthroughs with the acquisition of used equipment from a commercial laboratory for copying and cleaning film, and the business of collecting audiovisual materials continued. External arrangements for archival storage were made while the Cinemateca Brasileira office in Ibirapuera focused on administration, cataloging and preservation. Small windfalls from the state allowed CB to add technical staff, and in 1980 a new film operations center for documentation and research was opened in restored buildings in Parque da Conceição, on loan from the municipality. But just two years later, another fire caused by nitrate films hit one of Ibirapuera's storage buildings. In 1984, while an economic crisis was plaguing the country, the Cinemateca Brasileira abandoned its enduring private status to be incorporated into the Fundação Nacional Pró-Memória in the Ministry of Culture and Education, with guarantees for its administrative and management autonomy.

As the country moved from a twenty-year dictatorship to democracy, ministries and their oversight changed. In 1985, the foundation and Cinemateca Brasileira were tied to the Ministry of Culture after the separation of Education into a separate ministry by José Sarney, the first civilian president after the dictatorship. 1988 was a distinctive year for the country and CB. A new “citizen” constitution, created from the beginning with input from citizens, was celebrated nationally. In São Paulo, Mayor Jânio Quadros ceded to Cinemateca Brasileira the buildings and land originally occupied by the municipal slaughterhouse, in the Vila Clementino neighborhood, close to Vila Mariana.

Built in the late 1927th century, the slaughterhouse helped feed the city's rapidly growing population, whose many immigrants, lured by the job opportunities, built homes on the surrounding farmland. In 1988, as both neighborhoods grew and prospered, the slaughterhouse closed and its premises were used as warehouses. Beginning in XNUMX, the remaining red brick buildings with their beautiful arched doorways were preserved and restored over a period of nineteen years to become one of the world's largest cinematheques, as well as a leading center for audiovisual preservation.

Between 1984 and 2003, the institution had what might be called a protected status, as part of foundations and institutes created to preserve the national heritage or patrimony. This was an important safeguard during the conservative presidency of Fernando Collor de Mello (1990-1992), who replaced the Ministry of Culture in 1990 with a Culture Secretariat attached to his office, and who abolished the federal agency Embrafilme, created in 1969 to the production, sponsorship and distribution of Brazilian films. Collor also revoked the 1986 Sarney Law, which brought together public and private sectors in an agreement to encourage cultural production. (In 1991, shortly before Collor's impeachment, the Rouanet Law was instituted, not without controversy, to provide tax incentives for companies and individuals promoting cultural production.) In 1992, the Ministry of Culture was revived during the government of Itamar Franco (1992-1995), which succeeded Collor's disgrace as president. It was reorganized and strengthened under the liberal-moderate and left-liberal presidencies, respectively, of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003) and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011).

With each exchange of political airs, changes occurred. In 2003, with the promise of large subsidies from the Audiovisual Secretariat (SAv) of the Ministry of Culture, the board members of the Cinemateca Brasileira agreed to renounce the institution's long-standing relationship with the National Institute of Artistic and Historical Heritage (initially the National Pro-Memory) and join the Secretariat. It was during the Lula administration that the Sociedade de Amigos da Cinemateca (SAC), which for a long time helped CB, received approval from the Ministry of Justice to join fundraising agreements and partnerships with public and private sectors. SAC was highly successful in this endeavor, and the period from 2008 to 2013 is generally remembered as the most stable and dynamic in the history of Cinemateca Brasileira.

Fortunes began to slowly decline when culture minister Marta Suplicy and SAv leader Leopoldo Nunes began a three-year investigation in 2013 of SAC's bookkeeping and purchases.[7] During that period of turmoil, funds earmarked by the ministry for the Cinemateca Brasileira were frozen, the long-standing Conselho de Conselhamento was dissolved, and some 140 CB staff members were let go. Lately, the investigation found some administrative problems, but only one percent of its budget of one hundred million reais was questioned. In February 2016, with diminished resources and personnel, the Cinemateca Brasileira suffered yet another fire in an external nitrate storage, which consumed only a thousand tapes representing more than 750 film titles, the vast majority being newsreels.

Misfortunes continued with the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016) and the inauguration of Michel Temer (2018-2018), her vice president, who helped bring about her political death. In May 2016, Temer abolished the Ministry of Culture, although the public outcry was so great that the ministry was restored later in the same month. In the wake of that failed movement, ACERP, under contract with the Ministry of Education, was appointed after a long period of support to SAC to manage the CB, which was in the Ministry of Culture.

In 2018, the decades-old bright red geometric logo with a straight line and two circles representing a cross-sectional view of a projector was withdrawn from use without consulting CB during the Temer government, who thought the image was phallic. A dark, geometric, 3D logo replaced the vibrant, original one made by Alexandre Wollner, one of Brazil's first designers.

The Ministry of Culture also did not survive and, along with two other ministries, was abolished by Jair Bolsonaro as he prepared to enter the presidency in January 2019. The Cinemateca Brasileira became part of the newly formed Secretaria Especial da Cultura (SEC ), which is administered by the Ministry of Tourism. Seen as an economic vector, culture under the Bolsonaro government is officially classified as a vehicle for promoting tourism. In 2019 ACERP also fell out of favor with the government when Bolsonaro accused the Ministry of Education of being a hotbed of left-wing activism because of its programming. (Its education channel aired a documentary about Rosa Parks.) In December, the government did not renew the contract with ACERP, the pandemic soon hit with everything, CB stopped film screenings and exhibitions, and, like other institutions, closed its doors to the public in March.[8]

SOS Cinemateca Brasileira and its Manifests

But the Cinemateca Brasileira was not like other institutions. In March 2020 there were no resources for its specialists and other personnel, for security and fire protection services, and not even for public services. Fortunately, crucial power to temperature-controlled areas for film and other vulnerable materials was not cut, even though the bill was growing. In May, film scholars and professionals who had been associated with the CB over the years, including Carlos Augusto Calil, Ismail Xavier, Cacá Diegues, and Eduardo Morettin, wrote an open letter-manifesto entitled “A Cinemateca Brasileira Asks for Help ”, to talk about the rapidly deteriorating situation.[9]

Nearly twenty thousand local and international supporters signed to register their concern and race to defend the CB. That same month, ACERP signed a lawsuit against the government for R$11 million (US$2 million) of unpaid CB expenses from 2019 to 2020. ACERP continued to have control despite the government's decision not to renew its contract. The organization withheld the CB keys and refused to return them until the government officially terminated the contractual agreement.



Figure 3. (a) Poster for the movement SOS Cinemateca Brasileira, outside the headquarters of CB, and (B) the original logo for the protest, art created by Victor Nosek. Image courtesy of the author.

On June 4, unpaid CB staff started a crowdfunding site for emergency support, which raised R$125000 (about USD$23000) in thirty days. On the same day, and respecting pandemic protocols, 150 people from the emerging SOS Cinemateca Brasileira movement met to protest in front of the institution. The “Manifesto Cinemateca Brasileira: Patrimônio da Sociedade” was ready and copies were distributed to those who were there. Thirty-nine entities, including national associations of film critics, directors, filmmakers and screenwriters, as well as state audiovisual unions, were among the Brazilian signatures. Among the more than thirty international entities to sign was FIAF, representing more than 150 cinematheques around the world.[10]

With reporters on site, the event and manifesto receive wide media coverage. Actors and directors, many of whom have celebrity status, added their voices to the protest as representatives of more than 12 individuals who had deposited their films and other materials with CB. The original, red CB logo returned as a symbol of the ongoing protests, often overlapped by the black initials “SOS”. On June XNUMX, CB employees went on strike, even though some volunteered to continue and safeguard the valuable content.

On June 23, the new head of the secretary of culture, actor Mário Frias, who had no experience with public administration, replaced actress Regina Duarte, another Bolsonaro supporter with no administrative experience.[11] Roberto Alvim, the first to briefly head the Secretariat, was dismissed on January 17, following public outcry over an official video broadcast on national television, in which he imitated the language of Joseph Goebbels, the German Nazi Minister of Propaganda, proclaiming art as national and heroic. The background music of the video was from Lohengrin, by Wagner, an opera much appreciated by Hitler.

Duarte's dismissal after sixty days of general incompetence, failure to react to the deaths of renowned cultural figures, and use of music associated with the military dictatorship, had none of the immediate drama of Alvim's dismissal; that is, until Bolsonaro announced in May that Duarte's return to his family in São Paulo (following his "discharge" from the government in May) would be rewarded with another SEC nomination, which could be administered from São Paulo: the direction of the Brazilian Cinematheque.

However, Bolsonaro was quickly warned that he would not have the slightest ability to appoint a director of an institution under the control of a private operating system, in this case, ACERP. Frustrated, he publicly lashed out at the situation where the government, despite funding an institution, lacked the ability to remove or appoint its leadership.[12] A rumor that CB would be relocated to Brasilia was effectively countered by Sao Paulo city officials. A more real and pervasive fear was that the institution would simply be left without any funds and hopelessly closed.

On July 14th, another show of support for Cinemateca Brasileira took place. The word “abraço” (big hug) was projected onto the façade as protesters linked arms forming a circle around the building. Among the many who were speaking in defense of CB were directors Roberto Gervitz, Joel Pizzini, Marcelo Machado, and Tata Amaral, exhibitor Adhemar Oliveira, and editor Cristina Amaral. Large SOS banners, posters, and projected images calling for support for the Cinemateca Brasileira and the staff strike were strategically placed throughout the city.

Tensions between ACERP and the government increased. On July 8, the new head of the SEC Mário Frias sent a letter to ACERP asking them to return the keys to the Cinemateca Brasileira, which the OS refused to do until its services were officially terminated. Shortly afterwards, an attempt by representatives of the Ministry of Tourism to enter the CB was blocked by the ACERP servers there. A police report was filed to complain that government officials were prevented from carrying out their duties. In late July, the São Paulo Attorney's Office filed a lawsuit with the Attorney General to ask that measures be taken to protect the Cinemateca Brasileira via a new contract with ACERP – a request that was denied on August 3 by the Federal Department of Justice. , which stated that decisions about the institution's administrative management were in the hands of the executive. Four days later, on August 7, ACERP handed over the keys and dismissed the rest of its staff, ending its contractual obligations.

Figure 4. Demonstrators outside the Cinemateca Brasileira in July 2020. The word hug (meaning “the big hug”). Image courtesy of the author.

the waiting game

Newspapers, TV channels, and podcasts, along with webinars and small forums on media such as YouTube and Facebook, continued to talk about the crisis. Live online discussions featuring academics, film directors, Cinemateca Brasileira board members, and SAC representatives assessed the situation, providing updates and context on the urgent need to rescue the vast heritage at risk. A Facebook page called Cinemateca Acesa functions as a calendar of events and a space to watch recorded interviews with former CB specialists, who described their work and called for public action in a series of videos called “Without Workers Archives Cannot Be Built or Preserved”.[13]

A darkly ironic video on the page shows two Ministry of Tourism officials talking about the importance of the CB and pledging support for its continuation. The video is mockingly called “Jogo de Cena”, the title of the 2007 documentary by Eduardo Coutinho that questions the ability to perceive whether what is being said in front of the camera is true or not.

The government's strategic delay in negotiating the return of the Cinemateca Brasileira, with its vain promise to hire a new OS, potentially kept stronger and noisier local actions under wraps. Nevertheless, manifestos and open letters with long lists of signatures continued to circulate with greater international attention. Among the first articles to appear outside of Brazil was Isabel Steven's short but compelling article “SOS Cinemateca Brasileira”, for the September 2020 issue. Sight & Sound (Visão & Som) from the British Film Institute.[14] The magazine filmmaker followed, shortly afterwards, with a newspaper report, “Cinemateca Brasileira Is in Danger” (“A Cinemateca Brasileira Está em Perigo”), by Dennis West.[15]

Representing 180 audiovisual institutions from sixty-five countries and six continents, the International Association of Cinema, Audiovisual and Media Schools (and International Association of Cinema, Audiovisual and Media Schools – CILECT) has published its formal statement of support for urgent funding and speedy resolution of the BC crisis. On September 21, the Brazilian Association of Audiovisual Preservation (ABPA) published “An Open Letter in Defense of the Audiovisual Technical Center and the Brazilian Cinematheque”.[16] Its long list of signatures included unions representing the film industry in eight states. The Sociedade Brasileira de Estudos de Cinema e Audiovisual (SOCINE), the country's main media studies organization, adhered to the ABPA manifesto and republished it in full on its website.[17]

On September 25, Roberto Gervitz, one of the leading voices in the protest, read a statement at the Gramado Film Festival, which quickly captured attention and was circulated as “Carta de Gramado”. A strong statement, she vigorously postulated what present circumstances and past events presaged the future of the Cinemateca Brasileira: “The country that watches impotently the burning of the fauna and flora of the Pantanal and the Amazon will tolerate the erasure of the images that constitute our history. identity as a nation? Would you accept the occurrence of a new shame that would be added to the vast list of national shames, among them the calamitous and announced fire at the National Museum?”[18]

The manifesto is sarcastically critical of basic services reinstated by the government, such as cleaning, maintenance and fire protection, whose workers, he says, are completely lacking the necessary training and experience to keep the institution safe.

On October 5, days after the Gramado Letter was read, the UNESCO World Memory Program for Latin America and the Caribbean (MOWLAC) published a warning about the importance of preserving cinema and the need to return the Cinemateca Brasileira to the its initial mission of preserving the nation's audiovisual memory. The statement cites as an example the silent film classic Limit (1930), by Mário Peixoto, preserved by CB, which was listed in the World Memory register.[19] A day later, the Coordinating Council of Audiovisual Archives Associations (CCAAA) published a statement for the resolution with immediate funding to enable the CB to continue with its mission "before it's too late."[20] A protective force for nine professional archival organizations worldwide, including the FIAF, the CCAAA drew attention in its statement to the catastrophic consequences of past fires and floods, resulting from the Cinemateca Brasileira's endemic lack of resources.

Mobilizations in early October began to include an online forum sponsored by the School of Communication and Arts (ECA) at the University of São Paulo. She introduced Gervitz, Eduardo Morettin (ECA), and Débora Butruce, president of the Associação Brasileira de Preservação Audiovisual (ABPA), who discussed the impact of staff and funding losses on CB's preservation, production, and research activities.[21] That debate coincided with the launch of a manifesto signed by twenty-one Brazilian directors at the international documentary film festival It's All True, now in its twenty-fifth edition. In the manifesto, special attacks were launched against the “low cultural and intellectual capacity” of the government, as exemplified by the replacement of the SEC, in the Ministry of Tourism, by the Ministry of Culture, which had been eradicated. The manifesto urged filmmakers not to be intimidated by the Bolsonaro administration and “to find new ways of producing and recording [Brazilian] memory.” He added: “A country without images of itself is like someone who does not know who he is”.[22]

The government's cat-and-mouse game with SAC and its supporters continued to raise hopes for a management contract that would allow the Cinemateca Brasileira to reopen. But while weeks and months passed without any agreement, while the pandemic made mass mobilization increasingly difficult, while the myriad of local and international denunciations seemed unable to move a stubborn government, and while media attention turned to other domestic crises, it is perceived that the situation was being circumvented with hot cloths. The question is whether anything or anyone can move a government to act when it has no interest in culture except as a tourist attraction; and yet remains hostile to it.

A lament slowly turns into tributes to the Cinemateca Brasileira. Held online at the end of October and beginning of November 2020, the forty-fourth São Paulo International Film Festival broke with its long tradition of handing over its prestigious Humanity Award to an individual to award it to all CB staff. According to the show's director, Renata de Almeida, the idea of ​​a collaborative beneficiary emerged after she saw Gabriela Sousa de Queiroz, head of CB's Documentation Center, describing, in an online forum, literally an obstacle course of a door locked, a broken generator and no lights, which almost prevented a scheduled meeting with CB workers to discuss the institution's defense.[23]

The Humanity Award was one of the three major recognitions of the significance of the Cinemateca Brasileira at the festival. In a show of audiovisual solidarity, FIAF sent the festival a collection of thirty one-minute video commentary in support of the CB, made by thirty of its representatives from archives and cinematheques around the globe. These videos were presented one by one as an introduction to the films scheduled for the exhibition.[24] Finally, as part of the closing of the festival, FIAF presented its annual award to Walter Salles, in recognition of his films, his fundamental role in preserving the Brazilian cinematographic heritage and his solidarity with the Cinemateca Brasileira. The presentation of the award reads: “At a time when the mere existence of the Cinemateca Brasileira, a historic member of the FIAF, is increasingly under threat, giving the 2020 FIAF Award to Walter Salles (a training member of the Board and Director of the Cinemateca and recent signatory of an international petition in support of the institution) seems, for us, particularly opportune”.[25]

The closing of the festival also coincided with a newspaper article written by Salles appearing in Folha de S. Paul, which regularly reported on the crisis of the Cinemateca Brasileira and the many efforts to ensure its reopening. The article entitled “Threat to the Brazilian Cinematheque sensitizes even director Martin Scorsese” brings to public knowledge not only the concern of the world-renowned director and President of the Cinema Foundation, but also what Brazil was at risk of losing.[26] Salles is very good at bringing public attention to the grandeur of the audiovisual memory at play, as well as specific moments of national pride that may never be seen again. “The first records of the physical and human landscape of Brazil, in 1899. The first documentaries that showed the Amazon, the Northeast, the South of the country. Marechal Rondon's expedition, between 1924 and 1932. The history of our football, recorded by the cameras of Canal 100. Garrincha's dribbling. Pele's goals. The faces of fans at Maracanã”.

To these words he adds Scorsese's own: “The arts are not a luxury – they are a necessity, as demonstrated by the indisputable role they play in human history. And the preservation of the arts, especially one as fragile as cinema, is a difficult but necessary task. This is not my opinion. It's a fact. I sincerely hope that the federal authorities in Brazil abandon any idea of ​​withdrawing financial support and do what is necessary to protect the archive and the dedicated Cinemateca team.”

Salles ends his work with a direct call to the government: “The Special Secretariat for Culture promises a public notice to select the next Cinemateca administration. That they choose an institution with legitimacy and expertise to lead it back to the position it once held. Time is urgent. If something happened to their archive, it would be like losing our Library of Alexandria.”

To his plea for a nation's past to survive and flourish in the future, one can only add: Amen.

PS: In December 2020, the government announced that a temporary three-month contract would be signed in mid-January 2021, with longtime patron Sociedade Amigos da Cinemateca to manage the institution. Despite this, the discussions seem to continue and there is hope for the reopening of the Cinematheque. The temporary contract has yet to be signed.

*Darlene Sadlier is a professor in the department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Indiana-Bloomington (USA). She is the author, among other books, of Brazil Imagined (Brazil Imagined, Edusp 2016).

Translation: Marina Gusmao Faria Barbosa Bueno.

Originally published in the magazine Black Camera: An International Film Journal 12, no. 2 (Spring 2021).


[1] The government contracted ACERP in 2016, but the end of the three-year agreement that ended in 2019 was not signed until 2018.

[2] A government decree was filed in November 2020 to reincorporate CB, along with promises to solicit candidacies to hire new management, but only for an emergency period of three months.

[3] CB's Cultural Content Bank website contains considerable data of this type. Unfortunately, the website went down in November 2020 due to a power outage and, as of this writing, it still has not reconnected.

[4] There are three important sources of information about the history of CB: “The Brazilian Cinematheque and the preservation of films in Brazil”, by Carlos Roberto de Souza (MA thesis, University of São Paulo, 2008); Fausto Douglas Correa Jr. The Brazilian cinematheque: from the lights to the leaden years (São Paulo: Editora Unesp, 2010); and “The Brazilian Cinematheque and public policies for the preservation of audiovisual collections in Brazil” by Fabiana Maria de Oliveira (MA thesis, Brasília, Universidade de Brasília, 2020).

[5] For more information on the history of SAC (Society Friends of the Cinemateca), see “Note on the Society Friends of the Cinemateca”,>

[6] Roberto Gervitz, “Images that reveal us”. State of the Art: Magazine of culture, arts and ideas, State of São Paulo, August 1st, 2020,

[7] See Ana Paula Sousa, “The sign of chaos: How the Cinemateca Brasileira became a workhorse of the Bolsonaro government”, Piauí Magazine Issue 169: Folha de Sao Paulo, October, 2020, . This is one of the most comprehensive and informative essays on the BC crisis.

[8] SAv technicians warned the Ministry of Education about the vulnerability of CB without administration, but the ministry did not relent in its lack of interest in the partnership. ACERP remained in charge of CB for six months without a legal contract.

[9] For the manifesto and its signatures, see>

[10] For the manifesto and its signatures, see

[11] The discussion of the SEC here is partly based on information from the article “The Current Crisis” by Rafael Luna (, which he wrote in collaboration with ABPA. An excellent overview of the period February-August 2020, the writing provided a valuable calendar of events that greatly aided in the production of the present article.

[12] Ana Paulo Sousa, “The sign of chaos”, .

[13] “Lit Cinematheque”, .

[14] Isabel Stevens, “SOS Cinemateca Brasileira”, Sight & Sound 30, #7 (September, 2020): 14-15.

[15] Dennis West, “Cinemateca Brasileira Is in Danger,” filmmaker, August 18, 2020,>.

[16] “Open letter in defense of the audiovisual technical center and the Brazilian Cinematheque”,ólio-rs.html>

[17] “Open letter in defense of the audiovisual technical center and the Brazilian Cinematheque”, Socine, September 21, 2020,>

[18] A large part of Roberto Gervitz's “Manifesto Gramado” was published as “Contempt for the history of the country” n'The Globe, October 13, 2020,>.

[19]“Alert by Cinemateca Brasileira”, MOWLAC/UNESCO, October 5, 2020,>.

[20] “CCAAA Declaration about the situation of the Cinemateca Brasileira”, October 6, 2020,>.

[21] See also Eduardo Morettin’s essay “The kidnapping of our audiovisual memory”, Journal of USP, August 8, 2020,>.

[22] “Manifest of the Brazilian directors of the 'É Tudo Verdade' Festival”, October 10, 2020,>.

[23] Renata Almeida, “Cinematheque Humanities-Employees Award”,>.

[24] “Video Messages Celebrating the Cinemateca Brasileira”, .

[25] “Brazilian Filmmaker Walter Salles Recipient of 2020 FIAF Award”,>.

[26] Walter Salles, “Threat to the Brazilian Cinematheque sensitizes even director Martin Scorcese”, Folha de São Paulo, November 3, 2020,>.

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