Brazilian Film Industry Struggles: An Interview with Fabiana Egrejas
Online Screen Editor, Olivia Gomez, interviews Brazilian art director, Fabiana Egrejas about the state of the film industry in Brazil.
The Brazilian film industry was already facing some difficult challenges under the government of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s far-right president, when earlier this year, their situation got a whole lot more challenging with the outbreak of coronavirus and implementation of lockdown restrictions.
A few weeks ago, I managed to contact Fabiana Egrejas, a Brazilian art director, and I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about the film industry in Brazil.
I was curious to know how she started out her career, and what sort of challenges she faced in the Brazilian industry. She told me she actually started out studying graphic design but got involved in filmmaking through her friends who were film students. The first short film she participated in was made by her and her friend who studied film. She says: “At that time, I was clueless about all the different aspects of filmmaking. It was like a group project. We would get an idea for a film, we´d write it and then split the tasks and got to work. Simple as that. What fascinated me was discovering that it was possible to make the stuff I used to watch in the cinema; and it seemed easy to do.”
Her background in graphic design proved useful to produce all the design aspects of the films they’d make: “This ranged from designing credits, animations, set backgrounds… I became so involved in filmmaking to the point where I left university to keep making films, to this day.”
“During this time, the late 80s” Fabiana recalls, “there was only one film school in the entire state of Rio de Janeiro, so there were very little people who moved in those circles. I then looked for various courses in video editing, animation, screenwriting, I went looking for internships, etc. After I understood that there was a job as an art director and an art department, I began getting closer to professionals asking them for an opportunity to work with them. I worked with a few as an assistant, without pay, and I had to learn on the job, as we used to do back then.”
Despite the challenges, Brazilian film has managed to rise to the international stage where it has warranted recognition across some of the most important film festivals in the world. Certainly, films like City of God (2002), Aquarius (2016), and Bacurau (2019), have a characteristic flavour that can only be found in Brazilian cinema. One of striking stories against vivid political backdrops that seize the spectator from the first instance.
I asked Fabiana what she thought about all the recent success of Bacurau and the ‘Brazilian Flavour’: “Well, I didn’t know about all this recognition! That makes me happy. Certainly, we have some awesome films, and Bacurau is a prime film (in my opinion). I find that every culture has its own flavour and beauty of life, and the arts are capable to display that diversity and spread that richness. We have a lot of Brazilian filmmakers that believe in our cultural identity and aren’t interested in repeating the pasteurized formulas of globalized culture. Bacurau belongs to that group, but, it isn’t the only one. There’s a diversity of film genres in Brazil. The important thing is to maintain the freedom and the conditions so that everyone can manifest themselves through audio-visual language.”
In Brazil, professionals working in the audio-visual industry are not considered part of the labour force and, therefore, have no work rights nor unemployment insurance. Legally, we’re completely helpless.
Since Bolsonaro took office, he has taken a number of actions to effectively paralyze cultural industries in the country. “We’re completely abandoned at the moment. Our current government seems to be fighting culture with all its power”, says Fabiana. “They extinguished the Ministry of Culture, blocked funds directed towards cinema, funds earned by the film industry itself, not tax money from citizens. In short, they’re weakening, and will eventually paralyze, the national cinema agency.”
As if it wasn’t enough, the coronavirus outbreak has only worsened conditions for professionals working in the audio-visual industry. Bolsonaro has strongly opposed implementing lockdown and social distancing measures and insists that the virus is nothing more than ‘a little flu’. What’s more, according to Fabiana, “…not all industry professionals are included in the COVID support programs. Culture, education, science, and minorities are the target of destruction of this government.”
Despite the fact that this all sounds very gloomy and discouraging, there is hope for the Brazilian film industry. I asked Fabiana what the reaction of the film community was to such dreadful news: “Today, in Rio, we’re creating associations and strengthening the syndicate, we’re putting pressure on councillors and senators to vote in favour of bills that include that enormous quantity of unemployed people, bills that assist people. In the meantime, we’re still trying to fight the political sphere for the liberation of our own resources so that we can go back to work. Other initiatives include the Vaquinhas, who seek to gather contributions from anyone that might still have the means to aid professionals who are struggling, and distribute basic goods.”
Fabiana herself is part of BRADA, a group of female Brazilian art directors intended for debating issues in the industry. Some other associations created to support the film industry include FilmaRio and ARTE CINEMA RIO. Both offer different types of support for working professionals. FilmaRio is a collective created by filmmakers for filmmakers. It represents workers from the audio-visual industry in Rio de Janeiro and seeks to support their causes with their union, STIC. ARTE CINEMA RIO, whilst still under production, is an association that is intended to specifically represent film professionals working in the art department. Everyone from painters to art directors is welcome to form part of it. Their aim is to work in collaboration with FIlmaRio to ensure that the concerns of people working in the art department are also represented.
The fact remains: change is coming for the film industry in Brazil and only time will tell if it will do more good than harm. Fabiana expects to see changes at a structural level as well as production: “Returning to work during COVID-19 is going to entail introducing a protocol to safely guide the return to the sets. Because this is a matter of safe working conditions and health, it is a delicate matter. So, it is taken very seriously and is being studied by the people involved, who are on the workers’ side. For the government, COVID-19 is just a common cold… The working class is becoming more organized. That’s going to generate a more professional way of working, which is good if we manage to get back to work. These questions of rights are being approached with strength, but, we don’t expect to be back at work before 2021.”
Interview conducted and translated by Olivia Gomez.