Brazilian Cinema in the decade of the 80’s: Filmmakers debate alternatives


Sérvulo Siqueira


With a production around SO films by year, what are the perspectives for the Brazilian cinema for the  next years? Several filmmakers answered this question by raising many other issues: financial backings, conquest of the markett foreign cinema against national cinema .access to the television market, proteccionist legislaticn, better theaters, extension of the job market, etc. creating a mosaic of opinions and propositions which constitute their natural desire of making movies.

Those voices are not always the product of fear, the reasons expressed very often are not those of      heartfeelings. The images showed through these testimonies are sometimes faded pictures, and sometimes very sharp frames, reprocessing in some way a clear landscape of Brazil. Any more they don't offer the old and false dicotomies of “the good boys against the bad boys", but present the dreams and the nightmares of the Tropics.


Is There a Crisis in Film-Production?


The director and producer Miguel Borges, former President of the National Cinema Council and of the National Syndicate of the Cinematographic Industry, recalls the years of 1979 and 1980:

During the first semester of 1980, approximately 50 feature-lenght films asked to be registered in Concine. In 1979. there were 109 films, but that year represents the highest level of production, the greatest number of feature-lenght film titles ever produced in one year. An interesting fact is that, after a full speed in production, there is a slight quantitative decrease that never returns to the former level, as a general rule. It has happened that there has been a return to former levels but this is not a general tendency. Nevertheless production does increase. Judging by this information, it wouldn't be said that there is a crisis: what we could state is that the films produced in the first semester of 1980 were films mounted and prepared in an epoch previous to the announcement of a crisis. At this time, if there is no crisis, it is a miracle,  because the costs of production really are out of control.

Speaking about the decreasing in the production of feature-films, Roberto Farias, former Director-General of Embrafilme, the Brazilian National Film Company, emphasizes the role of the government in the maintenance of the old levels of production:

The only thing which we hope for is that the new directors of the Company, which have an ample understanding of the problems of the Brazilian Cinema, are able to secure the necessary funds, so that our cinema continues to be produced and occupies its market. This is because Cinema needs the participation of the Government. Our industry cannot live without it. Cinema anywhere in the world needs the assistance of Government, just as Government needs cinema. The function of cinema is political, social, cultural and economic. Movie-making in Brazil, like movie-making of any other country, is a cultural defense. It represents the exchange of cultural information among the most advanced sectors of the culture with the people. Every poet, every philosopher has a mission of clarification, of anticipation of events. It is he who indicates the roads for society to take, who proposes modifications, which break, which diverge, which fight, and these are equal functions of the filmmakers.

Filmmaker João Batista de Andrade, whose The man Who Became Juice received the First Prize at the 1981 Moscow Film Festival, reviews the struggle of the Brazilian filmmakers for an independent National Cinema and the importance of Embrafllme along this process:

The Brazilian Cinema is an entity which already existed before any suppport of State firm. The New Brazilian Cinema, which began in the decade of the 60's, discovered that the cinema is an important element, with a cultural function which is important in the country and Embrafilme was the instrument which made a qualitative change in our cinema possible. The Brazilian Cinema, before this time, was periferial, without an audience and made by people without any theoretical knowledge. Embrafilme was instrumental in making this change possible, and helped to create an industrial process out of this idea.

Nevertheless, the political process of the Company is today under dis:ussion. The entire group of cinematographers were very divided in the discussion of the projects that Embrafilme ought to handle. We now have unity where different interests exist. No longer are they the interests of the I960's. The cinematographic industry now exists. The interests of the labor market, for which the Union of Artists and Technicians fight, also now exist. There are also the interests of the small producers, of the documentary filmmakers, of the commercial and compulsory markets, etc. I believe that this policy should be carried out with the participation of all sectors, because only in this way can these groups be taken care of in a different way.

We know that this relation of cinema-making with the Government is always very difficult, because we do not occupy the Government nor do the best representatives of the Brazilian people occupy the position of Government. But it is a relation of the people toward the Government, of the Civilian sector of society toward the state. This relation must exist whether we want it to or not.

In the hour of action, we ourselves must appeal to Government. Private capital does not enter in the production because the Brazilian Society is dominated by foreign productions. There is a great quantity of foreign films in the market which compete with ours in better conditions and which take up a space which would be ours. This is the reason why there is not any private investment because the profit yield is doubtful. The role of Embrafilme is precisely to fill in this deficiency.

Jece Valadão, veteran actor and producer of low-budget films doesn't agree with all the Andrade's proposals. He indicates other roads:

The majority of the productions financed by Embrafilme until now are constituted of mistaken investments. They were made more on a political than industrial criteria. In my opinion, Embrafilme would come out really well if, instead of film productions, it were to finance film companies. It should operate like a bank, demanding of each company the guarantee of repayment of its investment capital. It should not invest in films, because Embrafilme doesn't understand films;  who understand films are the producer and the filmmaker. Instead of financing isolated productions, Embrafilme should invest more in the film companies, so that these companies, strengthened, could facilitate the appearance of other new companies.


The Battle Against the Imported Films


In order to produce new films, the Brazilian Cinema must look for new spaces where they can be experienced. Gustavo Dahl, writer and moviemaker, ex-Superintendent of Commercialization of Embrafilme, synthesizes this concern of the filmmakers of the country:

It is already difficult to maintain the level of Government investment and the level of resources in Embrafilme. It is also difficult to maintain the activity of Brazilian movie theaters. What happens to cinema in other theaters in the world is that the application of funds to a film is returned through the sales in the external markets, and through the screenings of the films on television, and the exhibitions in the theaters.

In Brazil, this doesn't happen. The Brazilian movie industry survives exclusively from the one third of its own market. To give an idea of this scale: a multinational film, which is exhibited in almost the entire world considering the entire world market as an index of 100  and considering the Brazilian market as 3,8%  of this market it follows that 1/3  of 3,8% is practically 1,2%. This means that the economic relation of Brazilian Cinema with that of world moviemaking is that of 1,2 / 100. Nevertheless, we are constantly the recipients of a violent political pressure. It shocks me how a phenomenon which is not very important, which is to say, the movie-making business in Brazil, is limited to approximately 60 million dollars, and is subjected to pressures which are completely out of proportion to the economic importance which it holds. Really, the movie industry is a factor of political affirmation of various national cultures!

So, when Brazilian theater is discussed, and our theater is extremely conscientious, it has as a project the contribution to the development of the country. It is this entire project which is under discussion now. There is a resistance to government participating in economic activities. In the case of the movie industry there is a question of scale: only the government can have a scale proportional to the large movie companies, or in other ways only the government can participate in exhibition. It is evident that, at the level of the screenings, it would necessitate the doubling the number of theaters in Brazil. On a more long range level it would require as much political space as economic support. Even if the number of the theaters were doubled, this would be very little! The country doubles in population, youth continues to be interested in movies more and more, yet, in the meanwhile the number of theaters grows smaller.

The production of films becomes unrealistic because films are not given a space in television and the Government does not invest in exhibitions, nor does it develop programs which carry movies to the low income populations or to social activities which might expand the industry. An association of economic interests together with political interests block this activity.

João Batista de Andrade shows us a direction through which wider spaces can be reached by the Brazilian Cinema.

There is a system of exhibition being developed which can show our cinema in a more democratic and committed form. But the problem is not only with the Brazilian Cinema. Thus, the reason for the development of the Brazilian Cooperative of Theaters was to reduce the power of domination exercised over us by the American films. This power is so great that it not only destroys our cinema, but it also reduces Peruvian Cinema in Brazil, it reduces Indian Cinema in Brazil, Japanese Cinema in Brazil. In other words, people only see American films. Peruvian films, the Argentine Cinema, the Cuban Cinema is as interesting to us as much as Soviet Cinema, and the Cinema of independent young Americans: neither one do We see. Yet only now and with great difficulties the Cuban Cinema has begun to be exhibited here. thanks to the activities of the Cooperative. And thus the level of income of the theaters can be raised, the programation can be improved through diversification, as films which are not American movies are screened.

Roberto Farias, producer and director of the ancient Brazilian blockbuster Roberto Carlos at 300 km-hour, ads other information to the argument. He observes:

The American movie industry generates 3 billion dollars per year in dividends for US. Brazilian Cinema has demonstrated a force and a capability for penetrating markets in the US, in Africa, in Latin America, in Argentina, and in Europe. Obviously, it is easier to strangle the Brazilian film industry while it is still a baby than to allow it to grow. To accomplish this, it would be necessary to destroy Embrafilme, Concine, and all the attempts that are made in Brazil to make Brazilian Cinema. These activities could scatter, and suddenly, raise the level of consciousness in Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Chile, Equador, Morocco, Pakistan, Indonesia, and thus the profits of the multinational cinema will begin to diminish. The origin of so many campaigns against Embrafilme is this: the measures which we have taken in our moviemaking during these last years are correct. From 1971 until 1978, foreign movies lost their audience from 174 million of spectators to 149 million of viewers. The Brazilian Cinema had 28 million viewers in 1971 and rose to 6l million in 1978.


Cinema and Television: A Prospect for the Future


Fighting for more spaces in the theaters, the Brazilian Cinema looks also at the small screen of the television networks. However, it doesn't seem to find a great receptivity of this medium. João Batista de Andrade, whose career have some films made exclusively for the television market, demands a better attention of the networks toward the Brazilian Cinema:

The Brazilian movie industry wants that the Television System establish a relation of equality with it, on the part of a cultural mass medium toward another cultural mass medium. We want the television to open a space for our production. The television system is only going to win with this, because the movie industry of Brazil has a potential for creation as great as that of television production but of which television fails to take advantage. I submit the following information: a full-lenght film has a life of 5 years, which is the period of licensing. After exhibition in the theaters during these 5 years, how many spectators will it have reached? Let's say that you reached a public of 2 million people. Thls is a success at the box-office; for the Brazillan Cinema this is wonderful. Now, how many millions of people could watch this film if it were carried by televlsion? What do 2 million people mean in terms of a television audience? Nothing; this is to say, the public which saw the film means nothing, compared to the television public. In other words, this film Is new material for tv markets. It also happens that this film, after have been showed in theaters for 5 years, could reach still more 30 or 40 million of other people. This picture represents an investment made by Capital from Brazilian Society which was of high cost and which ended up thrown away. It is not utilized, while the television continues showing foreign films. 

I have already made several proposals to various television studios that we make co-productions. What I proposed was the following: the incorporation of mecanisms of productions which are lowest in cost that, instead of being used only for documentary films, could be employed also in the production of feature films. My idea is that the television could enter with half the production funds in a film which would be exhibited in the commercial circuit and afterward would pass to the small screen of tv. Now, I don't believe that this might be the only possibility but I think that the television industry needs is to begin to negotiate with the Brazilian Cinema Industry and to buy the films that we already have. But there is a total blockade on tv, precisely because Brazilian Cinema wants to negotiate without losing its identity. Our society needs to struggle against this social control exercised by the television networks. We have to make it so that other cultural sectors can continue to prevail, so that all will not be channeled into the hands of one person whom we  know to be Roberto Marinho, the owner of the Globo Network.    

The cheaper price of the American films is, according to Jece Valadão, the main factor in the television blockade for the exhibition of nationally produced films. For the producer, only the intervention of Government could reverse this situation. He remarks: 

Only on the basis of the law of the strongest, only in terms  of the law, only a presidential decree could obligate the Brazilian Television to exhibit a certain number of films determined by law and during a specific period of time. In case that this doesn't happen, there's no way the the Brazilian movies will be shown, because the foreign film is much cheaper for TV. These films are usually made in the US by one of the television networks which exist there ABC or NBC, for example and are paid, they give a profit when are shown there, and are sold here, in Brazil as "prime-time" films, for more or less 1,000 dollars,  price of a banana. Then, how is it that you can compete with a product which costs 1,OOO dollars? Well, it is the price of a banana. Well, as it happens, television in Brazil is one kind of activity and the cinema is another, in spite of they are being linked.

Another possibility would be to buy the time on television so that it would not loose money and passing this time along to the TV sponsors through an advertising agency. Because what happens today is that TV is nothing more than the greatest movie in the world, It not only carries French and American Films but also, rarely, Brazilian films, and the worst is that the production for TV is still very small in relation to the time that it uses to exhibit films.