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article imageBrazilian directors come out fighting at Berlin film festival

By AurĂ©lie MAYEMBO (AFP)     Feb 24, 2020 in Entertainment

With nearly 20 films on the programme and a spot on the jury for acclaimed director Kleber Mendonca Filho, Brazilian cinema is having a moment at the Berlin film festival.

After far-right president Jair Bolsonaro slashed arts funding, under pressure Brazilian directors have come out fighting at Europe's first major film festival of the year.

"It's the best moment Brazilian cinema has ever had, and it is also the exact moment where our local film industry is being dismantled nearly every day," said Mendonca on the opening day of the Berlin festival last week.

Fearing the looming cut in subsidies, many Brazilian filmmakers rushed to finish their films, added Berlinale co-director Carlo Chatrian.

But he insisted the wealth of Brazilian directors on this year's programme was not a direct rebuke to Bolsonaro.

"When we do the selection, we don't look very much at the nationality, that's not the first criteria. The first criteria is how the film surprised us," he said.

But this year is not the first time the Berlinale has been set against a Brazilian president.

Under Chatrian's predecessor Dieter Kosslick last year, the festival welcomed Wagner Moura's "Marighella" -- a biopic of 1960s resistance hero Carlos Marighella that was described by its director as "one of the first cultural products which is openly against what Bolsonaro represents".

And in 2017, Brazilian directors published a letter denouncing the policies of Michel Temer, who took power after the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff.

The unpopular Temer has since been replaced by former soldier Bolsonaro, who has stifled the ministry of culture and cut arts funding since taking office in January 2019.

- 'Racist country' -

Brazilian directors Marco Dutra and Caetano Gotardo, whose film "All the Dead Ones" is in the running for Berlin's Golden Bear prize, consider themselves lucky. The public funding for their project, which began in 2012, has not been cut.

Yet they told AFP that "uncertainty" was something they would now have to get used to.

A drama set shortly after the abolition of slavery at the end of the 19th century, "All the Dead Ones" traces the destiny of a once wealthy, now ruined white Sao Paulo family and that of former slaves trying to defend their traditions and enjoy their newfound freedom.

In one scene, a young woman snubs the advances of a mixed-race suitor of her own social standing, telling him she would rather marry a white labourer.

"Despite numerous, still respected theories which claim that Brazil is built on a mix of identities, the reality is very different. It is a very racist country," said Dutra.

- Filming on phones -

Other Brazilian films at this year's festival include "Shine Your Eyes", about Nigerian immigrants in Sao Paulo, and two films about the Amazon ("Light in the Tropics" and "Amazon Mirror").

Daniel Nolasco's "Dry Wind", meanwhile, portrays a gay man exploring his sexuality in small-town Brazil.

"In the last few years, the diversity of Brazilian cinema has expanded, giving rise to new points of view and better films. This movement will not be stopped just because of new politics," insisted Dutra.

The most important thing, he added, was to "keep filming: if necessary on mobile phones".

Mendonca is of a similar opinion.

"I think it is a great moment to be making films, especially for ambitious young people. We have the technology for that," he said.

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