Cinema of Brazil

Cinema of Brazil

Number of screens 2,652 (2013)[1]
  Per capita 1.3 per 100,000 (2011)[2]
Main distributors Paramount/Universal 21.2%
Fox 16.1%
Sony (Columbia) 13.7%[3]
Produced feature films (2011)[4]
Fictional 57 (58.17%)
Animated 1 (1.02%)
Documentary 40 (40.81%)
Number of admissions (2013)[1]
Total 151,000,000
National films (18.6%)
Gross box office (2013)[1]
Total R$1.7 billion
National films R$30 million (17%)

Brazilian cinema was introduced early in the 20th century but took some time to consolidate itself as a popular form of entertainment. The film industry of Brazil has gone through periods of ups and downs, a reflection of its dependency on state funding and incentives.


Early days

A couple of months after the Lumière brothers' invention, a film exhibition was held in Rio de Janeiro. As early as 1898, the Italian Affonso Segreto supposedly filmed the Guanabara Bay from the ship Brésil on a return journey from Europe, though some researchers question the veracity of this event as no copy of the film remains. He would go on to make documentaries with his brother Paschoal Segreto. An ad of a May 1987 issue of Gazeta de Petrópolis, as shown in 1995 by Jorge Vittorio Capellaro and Paulo Roberto Ferreira, was introduced as the new "birth certificate" of Brazilian cinema, as three short films were advertised: Chegada do Trem em Petrópolis, Bailado de Crenças no Colégio de Andarahy and Ponto Terminal da Linha dos Bondes de Botafogo, Vendo-se os Passageiros Subir e Descer.

During this "belle-epoque" of Brazilian cinema, when black and white silent films were less costly to produce, most work resulted from the effort of passionate individuals willing to take on the task themselves rather than commercial enterprises. Neither is much attention given by the state, with legislation for the sector being practically nonexistent. Film theaters only become larger in number in Rio and São Paulo late in the following decade, as power supply becomes more reliable. Foreign films as well as short films documenting local events were most common. Some of the first fictional work filmed in the country were the so-called "posed" films, reconstitutions of crimes that had recently made the press headlines. The first success of this genre is Francisco Marzullo's Os Estranguladores (1906). "Sung" films were also popular. The actors would hide behind the screen and dub themselves singing during projection. During the 1920s film production flourished throughout several regions of the country: Recife, Campinas, Cataguases, Juiz de Fora and Guaranésia.

Hollywood films were also extremely popular during this time, accounting for as much as 85 percent of film material being exhibited on Brazilian screens in 1928. That year, an estimated 16,464,000 linear feet of film was exported to Brazil, making it Hollywood's third largest foreign market. European films, mostly from Germany and France, were also exhibited with relative frequency.[5] Fan magazines like Cinearte and A Scena Muda were published during this time, featuring both domestic and Hollywood films and stars.

Carmen Miranda in Alô, Alô Carnaval (1936). The Brazilian actress gained visibility overseas.

1930s and 1940s

Mário Peixoto's Limite (1930) was poorly received by audiences but eventually regarded as masterpiece of the silent film era, along with Humberto Mauro's Ganga Bruta (1933). Cinédia was founded by Adhemar Gonzaga in 1930 and was dedicated to the production of popular dramas and burlesque musical comedies, a genre which was negatively referred to as chanchada. The chanchada would often include satires of Hollywood movies.

Actress Carmen Miranda gained visibility overseas. In 1946, Gilda de Abreu's O Ébrio, a film very much representative of typical Latin melodrama, became a major hit and drew in around four million viewers. President Getúlio Vargas became aware of film's growth and, in 1939, created a decree that guaranteed Brazilian films an exhibition quota in film theaters, a law which still exists, though it is now largely ignored due to lack of proper control. While Varga's decree may be seen as a positive or nationalistic measure, it has also been interpreted as a means of state control and intervention.


During the 40's and 50's, films produced by the Atlântida Cinematográfica peaked and attracted large audiences by continuing with chanchadas. Among the actors that became strongly associated with Atlântida who had previously worked in Cinédia films are Oscarito, a comedian somewhat reminiscent of a Harpo Marx and commonly cast as lead, and Grande Otelo, who usually had a smaller supporting role and is often Oscarito's sidekick. José Lewgoy was commonly cast as a villain while Zézé Macedo often took on the role of the undesired, nagging wife.

The films of this period have often been brushed aside as being overly commercial and americanized, though by the seventies a certain amount of revisionism sought to restore its legitimacy. Despite being overlooked by intellectual elites, these films attracted large audiences as none of the Cinema Novo films would achieve. Today, the telenovela, especially the "novela das sete" (a nickname given to soap operas produced by the Rede Globo channel aired around seven p.m. Mondays through Saturdays) is sometimes identified as carrying on the spirit of the chanchada. Many of the films produced by the company have been lost throughout the years due to fire and flooding of its storage facilities.

Vera Cruz

The Companhia Cinematográfica Vera Cruz was a production company founded in the state of São Paulo during the forties and most notable for its output during the following decade. It is in this period that Lima Barreto's classic O Cangaceiro is produced. The movement was named after the large production studio, inspired in Hollywood scale. However, despite O Cangaceiro, which was clearly inspired in western genre, the essence of these films followed the italian cinema's style, popular between São Paulo's cultural elite in that time. Vera Cruz films were highly commercialized, which led some directors to begin experimenting with independent cinema. This movement away from commercialized Vera Cruz style films came to be called Cinema Novo, or New Cinema. Vera Cruz eventually bankrupted and closed.

Cinema Novo

Main article: Cinema Novo

The Italian Neorealism followed later in the sixties by the French New Wave (or Nouvelle Vague) fueled a new kind of modernistic and experimental cinema across the globe. In Brazil, this tendency was carried out by its own new wave movement, the Cinema Novo. Glauber Rocha, a very political filmmaker from Bahia, quickly became the most notable director, often held as "leader" of the movement. His work possesses many allegorical elements, strong political critique and an impeccable mise-en-scène that were readily embraced by intellectuals.

Rocha often spoke of his films as being a departure from what he considered to be the colonizer's view, to whom poverty was an exotic and distant reality, as well as the colonized who regarded their third world status as shameful. He sought to portray misery, hunger and the violence they generate and thus suggest the need for a revolution. Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol and Terra em Transe are some of his most famous works.

Other key directors of the movement include Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Ruy Guerra and Carlos Diegues. Freedom to express political views becomes scarce as the 1964 Brazilian coup d'état takes place and repression increases over the following years, forcing many of these artists into exile.

B Films

A "marginal cinema" emerges associated with the Boca de Lixo area in São Paulo. In 1968, Rogério Sganzerla releases O Bandido da Luz Vermelha, a story based on an infamous criminal of the period. The following year Júlio Bressane's Killed the Family and Went to the Movies (Matou a família e foi ao cinema) came out, a story in which the protagonist does exactly what is described by the title. Marginal cinema of this period is sometimes also referred to as "udigrudi", a mocking of the English word underground. Also popular was Zé do Caixão, the screen alter ego of actor and horror film director José Mojica Marins.

Associated with the genre is also the pornochanchada, a popular genre in the 1970s. As the name suggests, these were sex comedies, though they did not depict sex explicitly. One key factor as to why these marginal films thrived was that film theaters were obliged to obey quotas for national films. Many owners of such establishments would finance low-budget films, including those of pornographic content. Though the country was under dictatorship, censorship tended to be more political than cultural. That these films thrived could be perceived by many as a cause of embarrassment, yet they managed to draw in enough audiences so as to stay on the market consistently throughout those years.

1970s and 1980s

Films in this period benefited from state-run agencies, most notably Embrafilme. Its role was perceived as somewhat ambiguous. It was criticized for its dubious selection criteria, bureaucracy and favouritism, and was seen as a form of government control over artistic production. On the other hand, much of the work of this period was produced mainly because of its existence.

Fernanda Montenegro, mostly recognized for her leading role in Central Station, for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, becoming the first and only Brazilian actress to ever be nominated in the category. Also for this work, she was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama and won the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.

A varied and memorable filmography was produced, including Arnaldo Jabor's adaptation of Nelson Rodrigues' All Nudity Shall Be Punished (1973), Carlos Diegues' Bye Bye Brazil (1979), Hector Babenco's Pixote (1981) and Nelson Pereira do Santos' Memoirs of Prison (1984). One of the most successful films in Brazilian film history is an adaptation of Jorge Amado's Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (1976) by Bruno Barreto.

A peak in the number of film theaters is reached in 1975, when 3,276 projection rooms were in existence. Brazilian films sold a total of 275.4 million tickets the same year.

Retomada and contemporary cinema

The early nineties, under the Collor government, saw a significant decrease in State funding that lead to a practical halt in film production and the closing of Embrafilme in 1989. However, in the mid nineties the country witnessed a new burst in cinematic production, mainly thanks to the introduction of incentive laws under the new FHC government. The comedy Carlota Joaquina - Princess of Brazil came out in 1995 and is held by many as the first film of the retomada, or the return of national film production. Since then there have been films with Academy Award nominations such as O Quatrilho, Four Days in September, Central Station and City of God. The dark urban film O Invasor was chosen as the best film of the period by magazine Revista de Cinema. Some other films that have attracted attention are Carandiru, O Homem Que Copiava, Madame Satã, Abril Despedaçado, Olga and Dois Filhos de Francisco, though perhaps some of these would no longer qualify as films of the retomada, since the term is only adequate to describe the initial boost that occurred in the nineties.

Still common in Brazilian cinema is a taste for social and political criticism, a trait that reflects its strong Cinema Novo influences. Poverty, favelas, drought and famine are themes so common that the term "cosmética da fome", or "hunger cosmetic" (a new take on Glauber Rocha's "estética da fome", or "hunger esthetics") was coined as a way to criticize its supposed exhaustion if not exploitation. For the common movie goer, there has been a shift in perception towards Brazilian cinema as becoming more audience friendly.

Television shows of the Rede Globo network such as Casseta & Planeta and Os Normais have also received film versions and Globo Filmes, Globo's film production branch, has been behind many of the films that have come out over the years, often as a co-producer. Globo's presence is seen by some critics as being overly commercial, thus compelling certain filmmakers to work outside its system to create independent work.

Documentaries have also had a strong place in Brazilian cinema thanks to the work of renowned directors such as Eduardo Coutinho and João Moreira Salles.

In 2007, the film Tropa de Elite gained headlines due to how quickly leaked DVD copies spread among viewers before its release on theaters, but also due to the large number of audience members who cheered police brutality scenes. Its depiction of drug users as crime sponsors also fueled debates on the legalisation of drugs.

Domestic market

Since the 1970s, the quantity of film theaters has declined heavily. During the 1990s, it became common for small theaters to close while multiplex theaters, which are usually found in shopping centers, gained market share. In the last decades, the accessibility of televisions sold at lower prices combined with Rede Globo's success in making telenovelas of high production quality made cinema less attractive to lower income audiences. In addition, ticket prices increased more than 10-fold in a span of 20 years.

In the early 1990s Brazilian film production suffered as a result of Collor's laissez-faire policy; the sector had depended on state sponsorship and protection. However, with the retomada Brazilian film regained speed, though not to the same extent it had seen before. A significant increase in audience was recorded, however, from 2000 to 2002, with 7 million viewers, to 2003, when 22 million viewers came to theaters to watch national films. Because these films were made possible thanks to incentive laws introduced in the 90's and that the number of viewers drawn in from year to year can fluctuate significantly, it is often questioned whether film production has in fact reached a certain amount of stability and whether or not it could in the future succumb to any governmental whims.

Incentive laws allow Brazilian films to receive funding from companies that, by acting as sponsors, are allowed tax deductions. A common criticism is that, through this system, though films are no longer directly controlled by state, they are, nevertheless, subject to the approval of entrepreneurs who are logically cautious as to which content they wish to associate their brands. Even with funding, there are still areas that require some struggle from filmmakers, such as distribution, television participation and DVD release.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Elaine Guerini (January 13, 2014). "Brazilian box office growth continues". Retrieved January 17, 2014.
  2. "Table 8: Cinema Infrastructure - Capacity". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  3. "Table 6: Share of Top 3 distributors (Excel)". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  4. "Table 1: Feature Film Production - Genre/Method of Shooting". UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Retrieved 5 November 2013.


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