A new policy for Brazilian Cinema

Showing the world is always a moral act.

Wim Wenders

To awaken history is to gain awareness of our singularity.

Octavio Paz

The best way to draw a character is to use one's imagination. ... the essence [of art] is imagination.

Paulo Autran

Brazilian Cinema has undergone a complete turn-around in recent years. First of all, with the help of new sponsorship laws, production rates have accelerated: 155 feature films were made between 1995 and 2000, compared with less than a dozen during the early years of the decade. Secondly, the quality of these films has improved significantly, enriching film language, diversifying styles and revealing a considerable amount of new talent: 55 new filmmakers have surfaced between 1994 and 2000, a number comparable to the Nouvelle Vague, in France, during the 1950s.

Many recent Brazilian films have received widespread recognition for their cultural merit, both in Brazil and abroad. Three have been nominated, in the last few years, for an Oscar for best foreign film: O quatrilho (Fabio Barreto, 1995, nominated in 1996), O que e isso, companheiro ? (FourDays in September, Bruno Barreto, 1997, nominated in 1998) and Central do Brasil (Central Station, Walter Salles,

1998, nominated in 1999). Although the Oscar is a marketing tool for North American filmmaking, it also acknowledges cultural achievement. Brazilian films have also been recognized in other festivals and international competitions, and have received, overseas alone, almost 100 prizes between 1998 and 1999.

Furthermore, contrary to what a section of the press in Brazil asserts, the Brazilian public has gone back to watching national films. In 1998, for example, according to data provided by Filme B (a company specializing in the statistics of the Brazilian film market), there were around 3.6 million admissions for films produced in Brazil, more than 50 per cent above the number of the previous year. In 1999, more than 5.2 million people watched Brazilian films in the cinema and, in 2000, the number climbed to 7.2 million, 12 times more than the rest of the film market had grown in the country. Signs are very promising. Viewing numbers for national films, compared with those for 1995, are six times greater, pointing to a potential for growth which should be properly developed.

The government has played an important part in the new reality of Brazilian Cinema. In 1998, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso included cinema in the Brazilian Programme for Productivity and Quality's (Programa Brasileiro de Produtividade e Qualidade - PBPQ) 13 goals, with the aim of claiming 20 per cent of the country's film market by 2003. In 1999, he decided that a new credit line should be made available to finance the sector, through the More Cinema Programme (Programa Mais Cinema). With resources from the National Bank for Social and Economic Development (Banco Nacional do Desenvolvimento Económico e Social - BNDES) amounting to R$ 80 million in 1999-00, to which the Ministry of Culture will add R$ 2.5 million annually, the programme offers support for film production and for its commercialization, including the modernization and refurbishment of movie theatres throughout the country; in 2000, 11 projects benefited from this programme and another nine were approved and will receive the money they requested. More importantly, the recognition that the sector is on the verge of requiring new strategic initiatives from the State led the government to create, in September 2000, the Executive Group for the Development of the Film Industry (Grupo Executivo de Desenvolvimento da Industria Cinematográfica - GEDIC), which was a task force designed to define government involvement in the sector. Made up of seven Ministers of State and six representatives from the sector, the group's job is to present short, medium and long term measures to stimulate the development of cinema.

The Brazilian parliament has also taken various initiatives that prove its commitment to creating new opportunities for national cinema. In 1999, the Federal Senate created the Special Cinema Commission, within its Commission for Education and Culture, to bring together suggestions from the government and the film community as to the best legislative measures to adopt for the sector's industrial development. As a result of a proposal made by its president, senator José Fogaça, the commission became permanent; but the Legislature wants to take things even further, as demonstrated by projects presented by senator Francelino Pereira and member of the legislative assembly, Miro Teixeira.1

Moreover, there is growing concern about cinema within the general public, as well as the Executive and Legislature. It shows that we are now entering a new era after the dissolution of the institutions that offered public support for the sector at the start of the 1990s - an insane predatory act perpetrated by the Collor government. Without dwelling unnecessarily on the reasons for that predatory rage, I am happy to say that, in contrast to that unhappy moment, we are experiencing a new phase, showing that Brazilian society recognizes more clearly the cultural and economic importance of cinema and audio-visual production.

Both government and society are therefore better prepared today to face the task of building a strong national film industry. The country understands, more every day, how important it is for us to look at ourselves in a cinematic 'mirror'. We realize that we need that fundamental function of self-identification which is made possible by the projection of our common experiences on a screen, to understand each other better and to define with more clarity what we want for ourselves in the new millennium.

The country is experiencing a unique moment in which society and the State need to redefine how they want to associate themselves with Brazilian Cinema, its filmmakers and its public. The critical awareness is greater now, both within society and among those responsible for managing the sector, in terms of evaluating the legacy of past experiences such as the National Institute for Cinema (INC), the National Film Company (Embrafilme), the National Council for Cinema (Concine), as well as recent sponsorship laws, or, going back in time, of the days of such studio enterprises as Atlântida and Vera Cruz, when the State barely played a role in financing film. The dismantling of film production in the early 90s and its 'revival' later in the decade, have given us more information to draw on, and provided us with clearer points of departure to define a new model for the relation between State and cinema. It also pointed to the need for a project capable of giving film making the permanent conditions required for survival, so that in the future it will not wilt at the first signs of economic crises or the government's wrong orientation, as happened in the last decade.

The Ministry of Culture contributed decisively to the construction of this new model. Minister Francisco Weffort dedicated himself to solving cinema's problems with initiatives that clearly showed a desire to transform government intent into action, as proved by decisions taken in 1996 that raised the tax discount offered to companies that invest in film from 1 per cent to 3 per cent, and decisions taken in 1999 to recreate the Cinema Commission, a ministerial advisory committee that draws on the participation of all the sectors involved in audio-visual production in the country and makes up a significant part of the process of defining policies for the sector. But it is not just a matter of drawing attention to the government's successful initiatives, or omitting its faults. Democracy presumes that governments recognize this when necessary and correct the direction taken for the development of cinema and audio-visual production in the country.

The consequences of the dismantling process

It is important to evaluate the dismantling in the early 1990s of the public institutions that funded cinema, whose main effect was to make us lose part of our critical capacity. If in the 1950s and 60s Brazilian Cinema provided a catalysing force in the formation of Brazil's multiple cultural identities, it never became an established industrial activity, even when important public incentives were offered in the 1970s, by Embrafilme, Concine and some of the sector's protective laws. Those mechanisms carried traces of State paternalism and supported films that sometimes had little or no cultural value. Nevertheless, in subsidizing production and, more importantly, the distribution of national films in Brazil and abroad, at the end of the 70s they helped national cinema fill close to 35 per cent of the country's cinemas, which at the time exceeded 3500, with over 100 million admissions a year. This means that, despite its difficulties in becoming an industry, our cinema was capable of competing with foreign films, pointing to the industry's potential which unfortunately never reached its full development.

At the beginning of the last decade, however, the entire Brazilian film production and distribution support system fell apart. The dissolution drastically affected Brazilian Cinema's ability to operate with economic efficiency in its home market and, as a result, to compete with imported films. Not even the State's capacity to measure film activity statistically was safeguarded. From being an important cultural experiment, on the verge of becoming an industry, cinema was reduced, in the early 90s, to a fringe economic activity. National production, which had exceeded 100 films a year in the mid 1970s, was almost reduced to zero, with only two films released in 1992. As a result, Brazilian films, which had one third of the market share in the 70s, only managed 0.5 per cent of the market in the early 90s, leaving behind a vacuum which was quickly filled by a more competitive alternative product, namely American cinema.

And so Brazilian film practically vanished from the internal exhibition market, not to mention its total disappearance from the external market. It also lost its public, although, as we know, this was partly due to the technological modernization that had been taking place in the last decades, which ushered in colour TV, home video and, later on, cable TV. Film therefore became an economic activity of little or no revenue, frustrating the cultural community and contributing to an increase in the country's trade deficit. The foreign film invasion of the internal market, especially by Hollywood, becomes clearer when we see that while Brazil imports about 350 films a year for cinema, TV and cable exhibition, as well as home video, in the last six years the country has produced an average of 28 films a year. This quantity is not enough to provide pressure on exhibitors to open up more space for national films, even if there is legislation that safeguards a minimum screen quota.

We currently import more than US$ 700 million per year in audio-visual products, while we export less than US$ 40 million. We face both foreign exchange deficit and the industry's difficulty in generating its own funding and therefore becoming efficient enough to compete with what comes from outside. One should also keep in mind that current international rules for free trade do not yet effectively allow for full competitiveness, reducing the chances of trading in equal conditions. This is why, in fact, American films currently fill more than 90 per cent of Brazilian cinemas, as well as a lot of the country's TV. American cinema - with its large quantities of violence, its questionable portrayal of relations between races and classes, and its own multiculturalism - has become, if not the only, then one of the main references for the cultural education of the Brazilian population, especially of its youth. It is true that the importance of this phenomenon does not compare with the local soap operas, which are extremely creative and capable of communicating with the different regions of the country, as well as being among the most profitable branches of the audio-visual economy; nevertheless, 'canned' films tend to be increasingly present in the electronic media, including open and cable TV.

The problems that remain

Despite all this, in the mid-90s there was a revival of Brazilian Cinema. The phenomenon began with an important change in the State's political outlook on the sector, with the introduction of the Brazilian Cinema Rescue Award (Premio Resgate do Cinema Brasileiro) in 1994, and grew with the reformulation and modernization of cultural sponsorship laws under Fernando Henrique Cardoso's government. This government democratized such laws, encouraged partnerships with private businesses, increased the discount rate they could have, and made a larger proportion of income taxes available for cultural activities, including cinema. The allocation went from R$ 95 million, in 1995, to R$ 160 million, in 1999 and 2000. Until 1994, this tactic was little used, and did not amount to more than 3 or 4 per cent of potentially available resources in a particular year; in 1996, it went up 100 per cent, and again in 1997, prompting the Ministry of Culture to request an increase. Direct investments in culture and especially in cinema, have increased significantly with the government's policy to reformulate laws and maximize their use, even if it is clear that a film industry will not be established solely through these mechanisms

Due to budgetary increases in the field, from 1995 to 2000 investments in culture grew nine-fold. In just six years such government action prompted investments to reach R$ 450 million in the production of 155 feature films, almost all of which have already been released or are just about to be. Many, such as Carlota Joaquina - princesa do Brasil (Carlota Joaquina - Princess of Brazil, Carla Camurati, 1995), O quatrilho, O que e isso, companheiro ? and, more recently, Central do Brasil, Orfeu (Carlos Diegues, 1999), Eu, tu, eles (Me You Them, Andrucha Waddington, 2000) and O auto da compadecida (A Dog's Will, Guel Arraes, 2000), were all released in Brazil and/or abroad, and competed for important international prizes. They were very successful with the national audience too, which, in many cases, exceeded 1 million admissions, and in one case, O auto da compadecida exceeded 2 million admissions. In fact, between 1995 and 2000 the most successful films, publicized by the electronic media, were watched by over 25 million Brazilians, proving that they can draw large number of viewers, when they are launched in the market place with sufficient publicity.

This situation allowed for a revival of cinematic production. However, these films are not always able to pay their way with their box-office proceeds alone. This means that production companies do not make profits and, as a result, cannot in the short term foresee autonomy from the State, either through its sponsorship laws, or through its direct investments. In the end, what really becomes compromized is Brazilian Cinema's ability to become competitive and regain its own market share. The problem does not lie, as the press often makes us believe, in the relation between the audience and the films. The predominance of American film in the Brazilian market - and, as a consequence, its enormous cultural influence - is a devastating economic factor, as it is in other parts of the world. This influence is expanding with the implantation of multiplex cinemas that are subsidized by the American government. Even if this does not justify any trace of xenophobia towards American culture by Brazilians, it also does not mean automatic acceptance of the domination of the cinematic market which is happening here and in the rest of the world, with the possible exception of India and China, and perhaps Iran. This process makes a single cultural model available to the general public, being incapable on its own of providing cultural enrichment.

This is why the link between culture and democracy becomes so important. Once this link is seen as indissoluble, one can only reject, in defence of democracy and the integrity of culture, destructive American dominance of the cinema market. In practice, it excludes the possibility of expressing cultural diversity, or makes it extremely tenuous in societies like Brazil's, in which oral tradition is still so strong. This does not mean we have to throw the burden of responsibility onto the shoulders of distributors or on the American film industry, whose creativity is unquestionable: in a market economy, it is the nature of efficient businesses to fill the existing gaps.

Evolution of investments in audio-visual production 1995-2000

Investments 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001* Total R$

Fiscal incentives

28,935,481

75,716,723

114,011,079

73,153,527

60,796,467

53,267,008

28,353,847

432,234,132

Audio-visual Law, Article 1

16,848,507

50,449,952

75,917,001

39,093,362

37,766,848

25,478,153

3,981,196

245,553,823

Audio visual Law, Article 3**

4,030,992

7,319,787

3,848,491

3,999,707

3,865,016

6,245,111

3,781,394

33,090,499

Sponsorship

8,055,982

17,946,984

34,245,587

30,060,457

19,164,603

21,543,744

20,591,257

151,608,614

Conversion of foreign debt

+1 0

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