The Cinemateca Brasileira and Brazil’s Cultural Heritage Is in Danger

A partial transcript of Episode 22 of my arts and culture radio show, THE ART MOVEMENT. Scroll down to listen to the full show.

In my ART MOVEMENT shows, I try not to get too carried away with politics but in the past, I have talked about how I believe that you can tell a lot about any given country’s state of democracy by its treatment of the arts and cultural heritage at large.

When we think about totalitarians and extremists burning books, destroying artworks or censoring and prosecuting artists, we tend to think of it as something of a different time. Footage from the past shot in black and white.

Yet, there are several worrying situations right now in various parts of the world that we should be aware of. One of these is certainly Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, which also happens to top my personal list of countries I’ve always wanted to visit.

Since his election, the right-wing politician has done much to be considered one of the world’s most controversial leaders. He has trampled over human rights and decreased democratic rights in Brazil. In the process, he has also shown a great disregard for the arts and culture sector.

Brazil has been one of the worst hit countries by the coronavirus pandemic. This has facilitated his government’s plans for a stronghold on arts and culture, as well as its educational sector. One of the latest examples is what is currently happening with the Cinemateca Brasileira, which is the cinematheque of Brazil.

The Cinemateca Brasileira was founded in 1940, which makes it one of the oldest cinema institutions in the entire country. It’s also home to the largest film archive in South American with 250,000 rolls of film and a million cinema-related documents.

It is, in other words, the most important institution for preserving the memory of Brazilian cinema and also, works from the cinemas of other countries that were discovered in Brazil.

Despite its obvious invaluable status, the Bolsonaro government has little time for it. The Cinematheque’s employees have not been paid since March. During this period, the government completely cut finances to the foundation tasked with looking after it, leaving the institution broke.

As a result, the Cinemateca has not been able to pay its bills and recently, its electricity was cut off. Last Friday, a Special Secretariat for Culture took keys to the Cinematheque in an operation that involved heavily armed men from the Federal Police force.

In addition, 41 employees were fired. A dismantling of the Cinemateca is currently underway with no experts in the preservation of film involved. 

Archiving films is not as easy as storing stacked reels of film on a shelf. The film medium requires a lot of care and attention in order to be preserved, not to mention that each of the reels of films is painstakingly catalogued, as the risk of losing anything from any archive is always around the corner.

Abrupt abandonment, the way in which it is happening in the Cinemateca, puts its cultural collection at great risk, since much of the stored material is composed of nitrate, a substance that can spontaneously combust without proper care. Care must therefore be performed by highly skilled labourers.

Without trained technical staff, all the national memory stored there may disappear forever.

Download the full radio show HERE

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