Paul Singer: a militant utopia

Willem de Kooning, Untitled III, 1982


The documentary film directed by Ugo Giorgetti.

Paul Singer: A Militant Utopia it relies its strength on the very vigor of its protagonist's biographical testimony. As the backbone of the documentary, the raw report by Singer, a professor at the Faculty of Economics, Administration and Accounting (FEA) at USP who died in 2018, wins over the viewer for the clarity of the presentation and the discreet personality of the narrator.

We can say that the same qualities are replicated in the film as a whole, creating a kind of fractal. This is thanks to the contribution of multiple testimonies that, to follow the osteological analogy, function as the vertebrae that come together throughout Singer's account of his own existence.

There is no juggling in Ugo Giorgetti's direction: Singer remembers, participants in his life remind him and images help us to remember. “The film is an old class”, comments Giorgetti. His intention was to make a documentary faithful not only to his character, but to Singer's reasoning, a combination of clarity, education and discretion, as the director points out.

Chronologically, we learn about his childhood in Vienna, his escape from Nazism and his arrival in Brazil, his involvement with the Zionist Dror organization, his entry into the world of work as a worker and his union activities crowned by the 1953 strike. at USP and participation in the legendary study group on The capital, by Karl Marx, which brought together people like Fernando Henrique Cardoso, José Arthur Giannotti and Michel Löwy. From there, we move on to the origins of the Workers' Party (PT), Singer's role as Planning Secretary for São Paulo, under Mayor Luiza Erundina, and his efforts in the solidarity economy, of which he was national secretary during the Lula era.

Supporting Singer's testimony, other characters take turns, expanding the understanding of the teacher's trajectory: members of Dror, union members of the 1953 strike, Giannotti, Löwy, Delfim Netto, Eduardo Suplicy, Luiza Erundina, Lenina Pomeranz, Lisete Arelaro and the children André, Suzana and Helena. With each season of his life, we see how more and more people enter the orbit of the militant's ideas and practices. Giorgetti calls this flow that drives the film “movements of thought”.

Democracy taken to the limit

The proposal to bring Singer's life to the screen came to Giorgetti through Marcos Barreto and Fernando Kleiman, former collaborators of the professor. The material presented by the duo – a simple interview by Singer – fascinated the director, mainly due to the political ideas expressed therein. “His political ideas are very close to mine”, he comments. “He was a socialist close to social democracy and that interests me a lot”, continues Giorgetti, for whom Singer can be considered a man of action who tried to do what was possible, without being guided by a utopia, while pushing the idea of ​​democracy to the limit. . “It's something that came from the French Revolution: equality, fraternity and liberty. If you don't have one of the three, you're not a democrat and you're not on the left either. Because that's what the left is - pushing democracy to its limits."

According to Giorgetti, the production of the film began when Singer was still alive, but already very weak (the central interview of the documentary was previously recorded, in Brasília, and the director selected excerpts to assemble the work). Funding came through through crowdfunding, something new for Giorgetti and another suggestion by Barreto and Kleiman. R$ 130 were collected, a significant amount, according to the director, but not enough.

“With that amount we film, but it doesn't finish”, he would have said to the team during production. Whether it was due to bad luck, a change in the political winds or synchronies of fate, the project also failed to be accepted in any public notice, leading the work to become a kind of example of solidarity economy. “I never left a film unfinished,” explains Giorgetti. "This is personal honor." The solution was to get longtime friends together to finish the film, with everyone working for free.

With the documentary finished, in times of the pandemic, one of the friends sought out by Giorgetti was Amir Labaki, creator of the festival It's All True. Shown in the virtual edition of the event, the film was a success. 2 views were expected in a week. There were 4 thousand in two days. The film is now awaiting negotiations with TV stations and streaming to reach the general public.

A documentary that instigates documentaries

Giorgetti defines the film as “a spectacle of intelligence, not of action”. And what we see in its 57 minutes is a small part of what the director's lens registered. The precious excess material – unused excerpts from Singer's speech and hours of recording with the interviewees – will be made available on the website of his production company, SP Filmes, promises Giorgetti.

In addition to this palpable content, there is another potential content that he sees in the work. “One of the qualities of this film is the fact that it induces you to make other documentaries: there is the possibility of four or five”, he suggests. The 1953 strike, Dror's history, Catholic socialism, Luiza Erundina's administration in São Paulo, the solidary economy and the reading of The capital at USP are some of the themes with which Giorgetti stirs up other directors.

For his part, a subject that touches the director appears sideways in the film: it is the history of the University of São Paulo itself. “I have the ambition to make a documentary about USP in the 1950s, in the human sciences”, he reveals, referring to the relatively discreet period, prior to the convulsions of the 1960s and the political conflicts around Rua Maria Antonia, in the center of São Paulo, where the famous Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters (FFCL) was located. “About the USP that nobody talks about”, he concludes.

* Luiz Prado holds a degree in journalism from ECA-USP.

Originally published on Journal of USP.


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