Happy Days of Brazilian Documentary

Why does documentary film have a longer tradition than fiction in Brazil? What trends and themes have ruled in Brazilian documentary in the past decade? We have discussed Brazilian documentary with a most competent person; founder and director of É Tudo Verdade festival Amir Labaki!

Why does documentary film have a longer tradition than fiction in Brazil? What trends and themes have ruled in Brazilian documentary in the past decade? What films should you definitely add to you “to watch” list? We have discussed Brazilian documentary with a most competent person; founder and director of É Tudo Verdade festival Amir Labaki!

The DAFilms.com portal is a project focusing mainly on the European region where documentary film has a strong history and tradition. Could you provide us with a brief view into the role of documentary film in Latin America generally?

Documentary film is deeply rooted in the history of filmmaking in Latin America. It’s a region where for some periods, in the almost 120 years of cinema, the fictional production had faced enormous difficulties, even with the virtual paralysation, but the documentary production somehow managed to keep going. Some of the most important Latin American film movements in the last half century had been catalysed by the non-fictional production, as for example the boost represented by the Argentinian Fernando Birri’s Santa Fé School and the Brazilian Cinema Novo for the whole “Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano” (New Latin American Cinema): Glauber Rocha, Fernando Solanas, Arturo Ripstein, Tomas Gutierrez Alea, Jorge Sanjines, Miguel Littin and Francisco Lombardi, among others. With the end of the military dictatorships that suffocated especially South America from the sixties up to the eighties, we could watch a new trend of documentaries related to the bloody repression in the region, a vein that until now has presented some interesting films in the last decade (Albertina Carri’s The Blondes; Camila Guzmán’s The Sugar Curtain; Flavia Castro’s Diary, Letters, Revolutions). Since then, as all over the world, the documentary production has been increased and esthetically renovated also through Latin America, as we can see in the documentaries directed by Eduardo Coutinho and João Moreira Salles (Brazil), Patricio Guzmán and Ignacio Agüero (Chile), Andres di Tella (Argentina), Juan Carlos Rulfo (Mexico), Luis Ospina (Colombia), Gonzalo Arijon (Uruguay), to name just a few. So, it’s not a surprise that at least three Latin American documentaries (Guzmán’s Nostalgia for the Light and The Battle for Chile and Solanas and Getino’s The Hour of the Furnaces) found place at the top 50 non-fictional films of all time at the recent Sight & Sound/BFI poll. Surprising was that there weren’t more, especially Eduardo Coutinho’s Twenty Years After.

You personally, Amir, are not only a festival director but are considered one of leading Brazilian film critics and curators. Please, could you briefly evaluate Brazilian documentary production of the last years? What are its various forms and topics, how popular is it among the audience?

The 2010’s has been a strong period for the doc production, with around 40 feature documentaries getting theatrical distribution every year. The most popular trend are musical documentaries, as A Night in ‘67, Tropicalia and Music According to Tom Jobim. Brazilian docs are facing the old debt with our strong musical tradition – and approaching this cultural treasure through a remarkable variety of doc forms. The other remarkable trend is the autobiographical narrative, with many films looking for its own, original form – for example, just in the last year, They Killed My Brother and Elena.

As a film critic, how do you perceive the media coverage of the documentary scene and especially the quality of these critiques? Is there a specific film blog or magazine focusing, at least partly, on documentary film?

The coverage for documentary films in the Brazilian press has increased a lot in the last decade. Almost every documentary that gets a theatrical release and/or a slot at the leading film festivals are being reviewed. The question of the quality of the film criticism is the same here as all over the world: film critics have been historically prepared for reviewing fictional features. My fellows are being trained in the open field of the new demand coming from the production. In general, the level is much better now than, let’s say, 15 years ago. We have an interesting online magazine devoted to Brazilian and Portuguese non-fictional production and some very active doc blogs, as Adriana Plut’s .DOC, Carlos Alberto Mattos’s Mundo Doc and Marcelo Bauer’s DocBlog.

The festival É Tuto Verdade celebrates its 19th edition this year. Where did the idea to found the festival come from and what in your opinion is the one thing making the festival a unique film event in the region?

The idea came from my experience as a film critic covering festivals around the world. In the mid 1990’s it was clear that a new wave for documentaries had started and we hadn’t an exclusive window for this production in Brazil and Latin America. Adding to that the strong national and regional traditions of documentary production, I bet that there would be an audience open to docs and looking for a larger access to them. I’ve been lucky since then to find institutions and sponsors with the same concern with a broader film diversity. It’s All True is specially devoted to present a strong program combining the newest harvest of Brazilian, Latin American and International documentaries and annual elaborated retrospectives of Brazilian and international documentary-makers, increasing also the discussion around the documentary culture through master classes and an International Documentary Conference in São Paulo.

What are the projects related to the festival which you are most proud of? You have presented great retrospectives, you have invited so many interesting guests...

For introducing special retrospectives, we had the amazing privilege to welcome some legendary doc masters: Eduardo Coutinho, Frederick Wiseman, Johan van der Keuken, Jorgen Leth, Marcel Ophuls, Robert Drew and Santiago Alverez, among others. It’s a pity that some of them unfortunately are no longer with us. Hosting in 2006 Visible Evidence XIII, in coproduction with our International Documentary Conference, even if not simultaneously with the festival, was also a landmark for the non-fictional film studies in Brazil and Latin America.

You are the author of several books introducing Brazilian documentary. Are you working on another edition? Which of your books are available in English and which one would you recommend us?

I’m preparing a new, expanded edition of Introdução ao Documentário Brasileiro (Introduction to Brazilian Documentary) and I hope to manage to get also its first edition in English. Unfortunately none of my five books about documentary cinema has been translated to English. The interview books I’ve prepared with Fernando Solanas (1993, co-written by Mario Cereghino) and with Santiago Alvarez (1995) have also got Italian and Spanish editions. In English, it is possible to find an essay about Brazilian documentary cinema that I’d contributed to Lucia Nagib’s The New Brazilian Cinema (I. B. Tauris, 2003).

Dear Amir, thank you very much for your time that you devoted to us! We are so proud to be the partner of the festival and we believe there will be more and more space for Brazilian documentaries in our catalogue. We wish you best luck with the book as well as all the best to the next years of the festival!

On behalf of DAFilms team Andrea

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