2019 Marks the Downfall of any Future Prospects for Brazilian Cinema

Not only did the industry suffer from less institutional and economic resources, but it is also reeling from a declared war of the government against the artistic class

Helen Beltrame-Linné São Paulo

From the bottomless trunk of what can be called, without exaggeration, the new dystopic reality of Brazil came last week news of the removal of Brazilian film posters from the walls of the national cinema agency, Ancine. The cleaning did not restrict itself to the premises: information about national films currently showing and cultural policy have been disappearing from the institution’s website.

The posters incident not only demonstrates the complete misguidance of Bolsonaro’s government, but also forces a watchful observer to contemplate different hypotheses as to the real plot of the Dantesque nightmare currently endured by the Brazilian cultural industry.

The dissolution of the Ministry of Culture on the first day of 2019 was a significant institutional blow — one that was, moreover, already attempted by the Temer government in 2016 — and revealed the presidential contempt for the sector. However, the process of systematic demolition began well before the inauguration, with the tax rebate Rouanet Act being paralyzed in 2018.

The financial strangling continued in 2019 with a general review of the sponsorship policies of all main state-owned companies, resulting in the complete withdrawal of an essential form of public aid. As a follow-up act, the funds from the Audiovisual Sector Fund – for its most part already attached to specific ongoing projects – were simply blocked.

In parallel, one proceeded with the neutralization of Ancine, which had already suffered a blow in 2018 when the federal court of auditors ordered the retroactive assessment of every rendering of accounts delivered by projects in recent years — an irresponsible decision that has even led to ludicrous requests for producers to give back funds obviously applied in existing films.

The institutional draining of Ancine included a halt in the nomination of its managers and a threat to transfer the agency from Rio de Janeiro to Brasília. The latter, although not fulfilled (the presidential whim would cost US$ 360 million), left servants in a catatonic state and profoundly disturbed the daily operations of the agency.

The year of 2019 consolidates the dissolution of any future perspective for the national cinema industry, which found itself converted in a petrified and paranoid mass, incapable of long-term planning. On one side, the agony of an institutionally and economically asphyxiated sector, on the other, the declared war of a government against its artistic class. I mean, not all of it.

The Bolsonaro government, which so frequently accused the opposition of cultural manipulation, did not hesitate no use culture as means to an end: “If a project involves public funds, we have the right to say which themes are important.” And like that, the art from before is called “pornography”, and a new concept of “good art” appears: one that “defends family values” and “pays tribute to Brazilian heroes”.

As head of Ancine, the president wanted an evangelic that could “recite 200 Bible verses by heart” and had “knees worn out from praying”. And that’s how one came to the current heads of culture in Brazil, something that looks very much like a Dadaist painting.

The foundation responsible for forming audiences for the arts has a director that claims the Beatles appeared as a plan to implant communism. The duty of promoting cultural diversity is currently in the hands of a religious fundamentalist, while promoting the African culture is responsibility of a right-wing black man who denies the existence of real racism in Brazil. The audiovisual sector is managed by an official who defends the appreciation of “beautiful and classical art”, and the office responsible for managing the Rouanet tax rebate is in the hands of a conservative Christian who sees the financial mechanism as an instrument of “cultural Marxism”.

Against this background, the episode of the film posters could be seen as an attempt to “straighten out” Brazilian cinema: to erase the most progressive films and replace them with a new film production aligned with the values of tradition, family and property. But this way of thinking incurs in two misconceptions.

The first being the apparent belief, by the Bolsonaro crew, that the audiences, both Brazilian and international, will continue to consume whatever cinema is produced. That’s a mistake.

It is not through cultural steering that countries as different as the United States, France, Italy and Germany, admire Brazilian films. If the Brazilian production nowadays enjoys unprecedented success worldwide, that is due to its diversity of both form and content, which has projected a multifaceted image of our country.

And that phenomena is indeed the result of politics. It is through years of robust and consistent government support given to diverse and decentralized film production that so many silenced portions of the Brazilian population were finally allowed a voice.

The second mistake concerns the artistic production itself. If there are many films about social, ethnic and sexual minorities being made today, that goes beyond the political spectrum of any government. It is not because a government line of financing says so, that artists will be interested in the 200th anniversary of Brazilian independence.

The talents of the Brazilian film industry, built through decades of public investment, are currently ideologically and financially stifled by the government. And we will have no choice but to migrate to the private sphere, occupied by foreign streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon and HBO, which all have gone at full speed into the production of original content in Brazil.

In the new Brazilian dystopia, the TV-giant Rede Globo, which has always symbolized a commercial monopoly in the Brazilian audiovisual sector, turns into the alternative option for artists. And thus an independent industry built on decades of diligence and hard work is destroyed.

But, hang on: the poster episode could mean an even worse scenario.

What if the cleaning of Ancine is actually a strategy to empty the national film itself, regardless of its political spectrum? This would be the occurrence of a rejection of our own cinema – which, to be honest, would not be so surprising in an administration that has showed so little self appreciation as to launch a national campaign for tourism spelling our country’s name in the English format.

The constant display of deference, by the Bolsonaro clan, to American culture puts us easily on the verge of an official statement such as “Good cinema is Hollywood cinema.” After all, the quota system that guarantees screening slots for Brazilian film has not been in place since 2018. And there is a risk in the air of a new change in the national council for cinema (responsible for public policies) that would replace Brazilian filmmakers in the Board with representatives of foreign studios and conglomerates – such attempt was already attempted by the Temer government.

Truth is: that may not even be necessary. The high concentration in the distribution chain in Brazil combined with the hibernation of the quota mechanism leaves our system extremely vulnerable to predatory monopoly by Hollywood films, which was already seen with “Avengers” in 2018.

The government has actually given other indications of this more gruesome scenario for the film industry: the proposed program Mais Brasil includes the extinction of the Audiovisual Sector Fund and, even worse, the National Culture Fund (US$ 340 million in 2019).

It is still unclear what the removal of films posters from Ancine walls really means. But with national cinema on the brink of a cliff, we can be sure it is not good news. And this year of 2019, which never seems to end, likely still holds more chapters in the Brazilian culture’s descent to hell.

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