In defense of Petra Costa

Image: Elyeser Szturm
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By Katia Gerab Baggio*

The most relevant in the documentary Democracy em vertigem it is the force of the narrative that lays bare – even more, that demonstrates – that in 2016 there was a coup d’état in Brazil.

Since the documentary Democracy em vertigem (in English, The Edge of Democracy) was released, in 2019, the forces on the right have been doing everything to disqualify the film. And for just one reason: the documentary lays bare the destabilization process of Brazilian democracy, which culminated in the coup d'état that overthrew former president Dilma Rousseff, in 2016, and the conviction and imprisonment of former president Lula, without evidence —the which made him, for 580 days, a political prisoner.

The most frequent argument is that the film is fictional, not a fact-based documentary. This discussion is irrelevant. The documentary filmmaker assumes that the film is an interpretation of her (but not exclusively her, evidently) based on real facts.

The documentary by Maria Augusta Ramos, The process, over the impeachment of Dilma, launched in May 2018, had already had an important international impact. But Petra Costa's film clearly takes the position that Dilma's overthrow was a parliamentary coup. And this is extremely relevant.

It is evident that, like any work of a cultural, artistic, political, academic or scientific nature, Petra Costa's documentary can be the target of criticism. But what is happening – the – especially after the film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary – is an avalanche of aggression against the film and against the filmmaker.

For my part, I admit that the melancholy tone – and even “tearful”, as many who didn't like the film said – of the narrator's voice, Petra Costa herself, I don't particularly like (I preferred a more assertive, blunt tone), but I don't consider this to be exactly a problem, since it has an obvious relationship with the filmmaker's dismay with today's Brazil, whose horrors we are witnessing, and with the very soft tone of Petra's voice. On the other hand, I consider the option for the confessional narrative, which merges the filmmaker's personal and family life with Brazilian history in recent decades, one of the high points of the film, fundamental to give more strength and credibility to the narrated story.

And this is what is most relevant in the documentary: the strength of the narrative that lays bare (even more, that demonstrates) that in 2016 there was a coup d'état in Brazil. And that Lula's arrest was the result of this coup to remove the center-left from power and prevent the continuity of a project of national development with social inclusion - a moderate, conciliatory and gradual project, but, even so, of immense impact in this country that is one of the champions of iniquities and social injustice.

The documentary by Petra Costa and team demonstrates how this process of disqualification of politics, and attacks on democracy, resulted in the rise of the extreme right to the executive branch and the strengthening of that same extreme right in the legislature and throughout the system of Justice.

All the agents responsible for the 2016 coup, who supported and supported the process of impeachment of Dilma, put on the hood: they sought to disqualify the documentary by calling it a “fictional work”. It is being unbearable, for the scammers, to accept the film's Oscar nomination. Precisely the Oscar, the highest award in the film industry in the United States of America, the “model” country for the vast majority of “Fora PT” enthusiasts.

Finally, a personal statement: on June 7, 2016, at the meeting of historians with Dilma for democracy and against the coup, at Palácio da Alvorada, there was Petra Costa with her team.

At the end of the meeting —unforgettable, given the critical moment in which it was held—, I spoke briefly with Petra inside the bus that would take us to the Brasília airport. I didn't know her work at the time. Only afterwards did I watch “Elena” (from 2012), a film of extreme sensitivity, which I recommend. When I told her that she was a professor at UFMG, she told me that she was from Belo Horizonte. I haven't forgotten her sweet look.

Also at the end of the meeting with Dilma, members of the film's team personally asked the historians for authorizations for the use of our image in the documentary. With thousands of hours recorded, Petra and the film's crew evidently needed to select what would fit into a two-hour film. And the meeting of historians with Dilma did not make it into the final version. But Petra has a very important collection that, if made available, could serve countless historians and social scientists who will certainly continue to write about these convulsed and dark times, in which the extreme right, of a neo-fascist character, came to power in Brazil .

Aggressions against Petra Costa have increased in recent days, including words of an unequivocal and unequivocal misogynistic nature (such as “bitch”, “piranha”, etc. Brazilian).

The defense of Petra Costa, today, is confused with the defense of democracy.

* Katia Gerab Baggio is a historian and professor of History of the Americas at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG).

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