Social Struggles Take Over Brazilian Festival Selections

Anarchism, native issues and Cuban zombies are among the topics explored at the 22nd Ceara Film Fest.

FORTALEZA – The 22nd Ceara Film Fest’s focus on social upheaval has certainly gone beyond its programmed section, a parallel exhibition named "Latin America’s Social Fights." This year focus was triggered by the 70th anniversary of Orson Welles’s unfinished South American project It’s All True, which in 1942 attempted to portray the fight for worker rights led by four fishermen from Ceara, in North East Brazil, against the Getulio Vargas government in 1941.

STORY: The Hollywood Brazilian Film Festival Brings Indie Productions to the U.S.

The section was curated by Argentine journalist Oscar Ranzani and features films that specifically depict political and social fighting, like Newen Mapuche, a documentary about the Mapuche community's fight for their land against government repression in Southern Chile. Director Elena Varela was actually persecuted by the State’s intelligence agency and imprisoned in 2008, and all her footage was confiscated.  

But social topics have also poured into the fest’s main competition, which closed last night and featured films from Guatemala, Ecuador, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and the Basque Country.

The consequences of Guatemala’s desaparecidos in native communities are featured in Sergio Ramirez’s opera prima Distancia, about an old man's road trip in search of his daughter, who was abducted 20 years ago during the war. Ecuador’s political and religious tensions also filter through Tania Hermida’s En el nombre de la hija, about the children of socialist parents who spend the summer with cousins in their Catholic grandparents’ house, in 1976. Hermida sat as an elected member of Ecuador’s 2007 Constituent Assembly, where she pushed for cultural rights to be included in the new Constitution.

Out-of-competition entries have also brought social critiques into the mix: Alejandro BruguesJuan of the Dead, a zombie comedy set in Havana, elaborates the genre’s main features through local Cuban topics, like political dissidents and everyday life in Cuba.

Local competition entry’s Rania (Roberta Marques), and Claudio AssisMouse Fever, both set in Northeastern Brazil, tapped deep into local social themes. Marques’ first fiction feature is a coming-of-age story about a young girl’s dream of becoming a dancer while working on a strip club. Assis’ intense and lyrical third fiction is set on a low-class community of marginalized and hedonist characters and focuses on the passionate life of an anarchist street-poet in Recife (played by Irandhir Santos) who falls in love with a young girl called Eneida.

STORY: Brazilian Exhibitors Join to Negotiate Mass digitalization With Hollywood Studios

“The North East region in Brazil is going through a special phase,” says local director and poet Rosemberg Cariri. “There is a renovation in Brazilian cinema, and the nordeste plays a key role,” he added. Cariri also explained how the region’s young filmmakers, who mostly make auteur films, are differentiating themselves from the South East film production (mainly Rio and Sao Paulo), charged with a more market-oriented aim. “They’re trying for a market that doesn't exist,” he claims, “because it’s a very restricted one, and most of it, like 70 or 80 percent, is taken by films like The Avengers.” 

The fest also features an exhibition of short films by young directors from this region. “Young people here are restless,” says Cariri. “Their restlessness is deeper, it’s not just existential, they translate it into cinematographic language, and so in their cinema form and content melt together.”

The social role of cinema was also discussed by Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles (Blindness, The Constant Gardener), who attended the festival for a special debate on the 10th  anniversary of his film City of God, which took place in the State Assembly. “There’s a lot of talk about social issues, but for me now the key problem is the environmental issue,” he said.  “I’ve looked into it and got almost desperate. The poles are melting, sea levels are rising, we’re responsible for global warming and we keep emitting carbon. We can’t wait a generation to change. It’s almost like a war-time economy. Nowadays, if I was to address an issue, and I’ll probably will next year, it would about the environment.”