Brazilian Film Industry Struggles: History Repeats Itself
Online Screen Editor, Olivia Gomez, explains why the Brazilian film industry is reliving its past.
The Brazilian film industry once again finds itself against the ropes with far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, consistently attacking the cultural sector.
Bolsonaro has disregarded the cultural sector since before he was elected. In fact, in his government plan there was hardly any mention of culture. Since he took office in January of 2019, he has slashed public funding for the music and film industry, dismantled the Ministry of Culture, and is slowly paralyzing the national film agency, ANCINE.
The two main purposes of ANCINE are to provide funding for Brazilian productions and to regulate the market to ensure the exhibition of national films. Usually, funding is sourced from tax incentives that encouraged private investments, and from something called the ‘Audio-visual Sector Fund’ which issues access to resources to several links of the production chain. And its been quite successful. In 2013, the audio-visual sector in Brazil held a 0.54% share in the economy, putting it in a comparative position with industries that are normally considered to be more important than film such as pharmaceuticals, textiles, and electronics. The sector grew an astounding 65.8% between 2007 and 2013, equivalent to a continuous expansion of 8.8% a year, and higher than the average of every other sector of the Brazilian economy at the time.
By the end of 2016, the Brazilian film industry is thriving and looking to continue their growth. But now, with Bolsonaro’s dismantling of the Ministry of Culture and the cuts to funding of ANCINE, all of that comes under threat.
The fact is, that has always been the fight for Brazilian cinema. In the early 60s, a military dictatorship began, and, within a few years, it ratified a new constitution that restrained freedom of speech and political opposition. This had an enormous impact on the film industry, which had previously been on the rise.
As part of the cultural sphere of the country, the film industry formed part of the opposition to the military dictatorship along with radical artists, intellectuals, universities, etc. At the beginning of the dictatorship, Brazil still maintained relative freedom of expression but, this all changed with the roll-out of the Institutional Acts.
Throughout the 21 years of dictatorship, the Brazilian government introduced several ‘Institutional Acts’ whose main purpose was to expand the bureaucratization of the state. Subsequently, the government’s power to control the population increased and by 1968, just 4 years after the start of the dictatorship, Institutional Act No. 5 was introduced. It granted more power to the president over other government branches and suspended habeas corpus for political prisoners. Act No. 5 effectively silenced the overwhelming resistance movement that the cultural and social sphere had been forming the past 4 years and censorship of press and artistic industries became the norm.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, in 1969, just a year after Act No. 5, a state-supported film agency called Embrafilme was founded to substitute the previous national film institute. The apparent purpose of Embrafilme was to promote and distribute Brazilian films abroad. However, the Brazilian government was well aware of cinema’s ability to spread ideologies, so, Embrafilme really served as a way to control the information and content that went around the country. The only ideas one could spread through Embrafilme were those that didn’t directly comment on the government, the armed forces, or defend the resistance in any way whatsoever.
Nevertheless, there’s something to be said about the positive impact it ended up having in the Brazilian film industry. During its first few years, Embrafilme established a screening quota of national films that had to be met by theatres across the country. Later, state intervention was increased with the purpose of incentivizing filmmaking as a form of construction of national identity.
Constructing a national identity then becomes a matter of navigating the fine line between serving and denouncing the state, according to military historian, Marcos Napolitano. The result is a cinema of coded criticism. A cinema that evolved to become the cinema of striking stories that we enjoy so much today.
By the 80s, the military dictatorship was losing strength in the country and, slowly, Brazil made the transition back to democracy. As this was happening, Embrafilme started declining and by the end of the decade, all state support for the film industry stopped. However, that was not the end for Brazilian film. In September of 2001, a new national film agency was founded with the purpose of regulating and promoting the audio-visual industry in the country: ANCINE (Agencia Nacional do Cine).
Now, history repeats itself. Jair Bolsonaro is effectively leading the war against the arts. Change is coming and only time will tell if it’ll do more good than harm.