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Festival Watch: 11th Rio Cine Festival

By Diana Rico

A black-and-white photo of the Brazilian filmmaker Glauber Rocha.

Some film festivals have a simple goal: to showcase worthy films to as large an audience as possible. But the organizers of the Rio Cinema Festival are slightly more ambitious: they want nothing less than to make the Brazilian (and Latin American) film and television industries significant players in the world media markets.

To this end, the 11th International Rio Cine Festival of Cinema, TV, and Video, held July 24-31, 1995, in Rio de Janeiro, was densely packed with many strands of programming and multiple networking opportunities. There were screenings of international independent feature-length films (many culled from earlier non-Brazilian festivals, such as Cannes, Berlin, and Sundance); a competition of short Brazilian films; competitive and noncompetitive international video screenings; sidebars on Mexican cinema and on Orson Welles; and an international television screening section and forum.

This last, which centered on the theme of public television in Latin America, was built around a Mini-INPUT program—a scaled-down version of the INPUT public television conference that was held in San Sebastian, Spain, earlier in the year (see ID, September 1995)—and a new INPUT Latino Workshop, an outgrowth of the Rio Cinema Festival's mission to expose Latin American work to people outside of Latin America, particularly those who might be able to provide funding and/or broadcasting or screening opportunities. And in case this was not enough, a "video on demand " sector made it possible for attendees to view not only titles whose screenings they missed but also additional Latin American works that, due to the inevitable limitations of time and space, were not given screening slots in the festival.

While local non industry audiences flocked in droves to the feature-length films—all of which were fiction—the many documentaries, screening in the video and television sections, were more often than not seen (and discussed) by professionals in the industry, about half of them from Brazil and half international. The daytime INPUT screenings, which included panel discussions and U.N.­ style simultaneous translations, were noticeably well attended. Late-afternoon and evening sessions for INPUT and the Brazilian videos, however, had neither panels nor translators and sometimes were nearly empty—a pity, as much strong work was shown.

Documentary filmmaker Tete Moraes, who has organized the television section for the past four years, commented, "There is no support for documentaries in Brazil. The commercial networks HATE documentaries." This may change as the broadcast landscape there-long defined by only four channels-is being altered by the recent introduction of cable and satellite. The successful Sao Paulo cable station TV Cultura, for example, is committed to showing documentary shorts made by independents, according to Rio Cine's institutional director, Julio Uchoa.

One way or another, strong non­-fiction work is being made all over Brazil—some of it with foreign co-production funding. Moraes's extremely charming documentary Land of Giants, for example, about an artist who creates huge, colorful dancing dolls for the yearly Carnival in the town of Olinda, was made with money from France's Canal+ and aired on Brazilian tv only because Moraes herself lined up commercial sponsors.

Other Brazilian documentarians have trained their eyes on social and cultural phenomena ranging from Rio youth's funk dance scene (Sergio Gol­denberg's fascinating Funk Rio) to contemporary Brazilian women's sexual views (Joao Alegria's Between Four Walk) to transvestism (Thereza Jessouroun's frank portrait Paula). Two works focusing on Brazilian cultural history were especially noteworthy. The 1929 "actuality" short The Samba Singer included a rare example of an early Brazilian sound movie, which was restored frame by frame and whose soundtrack was remastered and digitally re-synched. This new version, produced by Renato Bulcão and the Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado, provided a delightful, if brief, glimpse at a slice of Rio life in an earlier time. And Glauber Rocha: When the Cinema Turned into Samba, directed by Jose Roberto Torero Jr. and Erica Bauer Oliveira, tells the story of the 1960s Cinema Novo movement—Brazil's answer to the French New Wave­—through a portrait of the politically driven artist Rocha, who attempted to create a cinema that was not "conventional, colonized, and Americanized."

The tradition of social-issue documentary is alive and well in Latin America, demonstrated by such works as Carlos Alberto Vicalvi's Prisioners of Fear (Brazil), a solidly made, densely informative overview of how epidemic levels of violence affect the residents of São Paulo (an armed city where one out of every 100 residents owns a gun), and Estela and Ernesto Bravo's The Cuban Excludables (Cuba), which chronicles the physical and psychological mistreatment of Cuban detainees in a federal U.S. prison in Atlanta. The filmmaking couple, in fact, have started a program called Prodocumentary "to teach young people [in Cuba] how to make documentaries and to do documentaries we think are necessary, to give importance to the documentary," says Estela Bravo.

Several mixed-genre works deserve mention for the ideas they might give documentarians searching for new ways to convey information. Philippa Lowthorpe's A Marriage, produced for the BBC Bristol, boldly blends documentary and dramatic techniques (including the subject directly addressing the camera in full-on 19th-century dress) to tell the true story of an Englishwoman, Anne Lister, who left the only known personal account in English of a pre- 20th-century lesbian life. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Tristan and Juliet; or, Love in the Year 2000, produced by Nathalie Barton and described as a "documentary comedy," weaves a (badly written) soap opera with informational interviews with real-life experts in the field of love. Although it is as unsuccessful as A Marriage is effective, the idea of using a popular tv genre to present documentary material is an intriguing one that bears exploration. And the dreamlike, beautifully staged biographical drama Bispo do Rosário, by Miguel Przeworski (who programmed Rio Cine's video selections) and Helena Martinho da Rocha, tells the story of the Brazilian sculptor Arthur Bispo do Rosario—who spent most of his life in psychiatric wards—from the point of view of the artist himself, giving his fantastical inner life more weight than so-called objective reality.

Some of the most exciting nonfiction work fell into the growing category of personal documentary. Dan Reeves's experimental video Obsessive Becoming (United States/England) blends poetic narration, family movies and photos, and music ranging from Benjamin Britten to Tom Waits to explore the shadow side of long-held family secrets. Also impressive and beautiful was Anu Kui­valainen's Christmas in the Distance (Finland), a visually spare, haunting chronicle of the filmmaker's search for the father she never knew. In addition, personal documentaries were the focus of a packed workshop given by Ellen Schneider, former co-executive producer of PBS's P.O.V., who is now developing the new video diary series Extreme Close-Up.

Rio Cine's energetic institutional director, Julio Uchoa, has ambitious ideas for next year's festival, including expanding the showcase for Brazilian and other Latin American productions, adding three days of seminars and workshops leading u p to the festival, and introducing visiting filmmakers to Brazilian locations. The festival already is working on establishing a permanent cultural center with a video screening room and video archives in Bahia, and their importation of a Mini-INPUT has helped pave the way for holding the larger annual INPUT conference in Latin America for the first time. (This year's INPUT will be held in Guadalajara, Mexico, in May.) "It is a problem in one way because there is so much for us to do," notes Uchoa, "but if we do only one thing, it's not enough to get people to open up to what Brazil is."

Diana Rico is the Editor of ID.