Abolição | 1988

Simply put, Carlos Adriano’s A Voz e o Vazio: A Vez de Vassourinha (1998) stands in the ranks as one of the most important experimental works of cinema to come out of Brazil in the last 25 years. Adriano’s position as the country’s eminent found-footage filmmaker was solidified with his previous film, Remainiscences (1997), in which he rephotographs what is allegedly the first cinematographic footage to be shot in Brazil, — 11 frames of the waves hitting a pier, captured by Cunha Salles in 1897 — and transforms the material into a cornucopia of light and flicker, illustrating the sea changes in technique and metaphysical condition that cinema had gone through within the twentieth century. Vassourinha approaches the question of the archive with an opposite methodology, collecting and projecting as many different materials centered around one figure as Adriano could find, to compose a work that intensely reconstructs the short period of time lived by Mário de Oliveira Ramos, the sambista known as Vassourinha prior to his death in 1942 at the age of 19. A very popular musician in his own time, Vassourinha fell victim to what many have described as Brazil’s short cultural memory, as he became quickly forgotten after his passing. Vassourinha is thus not an act of mourning, but one of resurrection, where Adriano imbues these images and sounds with renewed life through montage, arranged under the twin poles of cinema and samba.
We are still catching up with Zózimo Bulbul’s Abolição. The two-and-a-half-hour documentary is an unflinching rumination on the state of Black life in Brazil one hundred years following the Lei Áurea, the law that officially ‘abolished’ slavery in the country. Abolição seeks to point out that the Lei Áurea was, in the words of Marcell Carrasco, “a farcical scam”. Director Zózimo Bulbul and his nearly all-Black film crew travel throughout Brazil exploring the remaining traces of colonialism and the ever-present existence of racism that was to be found throughout the country. No facet of Brazilian life escapes Bulbul’s expository camera, as he explores the ways in which racism is prevalent within sports, academia, history, the beaches of Rio, religious practices, the film industry, politics, and every other facet of social life. In Abolição, there are interviews with key icons from the Black Brazilian community, such as Abdias do Nascimento, Lélia Gonzalez, Carlos Medeiros, Beatriz Nascimento, Grande Otelo, Joel Rufino dos Santos and Benedita da Silva. As these figures add to the dialogue of what it means to be Black while living in Brazil towards the end of the 20th century, the film cuts to images of homeless living on the streets in hunger, maintaining the viewer’s focus on the message at the core of the film: society continues to suppress Black lives from anything more than subsistence through racist oppression.

The below copy of Abolição was sourced from a VHS copy of the film that was made and disseminated throughout the 90s. The low-resolution copy, as any viewer will quickly realize, does not adequately represent the beautiful images that were present during the few screenings it had prior to being shelved by Brazilian production company Embrafilme due to their lack of support for the project, nor does it reflect what we would see today if the film were properly restored. Abolição is one of the most important Brazilian documentary films ever made, and it surely deserves better than what you will see below. It is nonetheless vital for us to watch the film as it is, discuss its ideas, and disseminate the work to as many people as possible, so that those with the ability to do so will provide Abolição with the high-quality scan and translation that it truly deserves.
With In Memoriam: O Roteiro Do Gravador, Sylvio Lanna takes his camera to the Rio de Janeiro film archive, the Cinemateca do MAM, in search of his in 1967 film O Roteiro do Gravador. We soon learn that while the film was deposited within the archive, it's exact location remains unknown today  – among the Cinemateca do MAM’s mass collection, some films can be difficult to track. Not having his film in hand, Lanna instead takes the opportunity to create an experimental love letter to this great archival institution, while exploring themes such as loss, memory, and rebirth.
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  1. Universal Exhibition or the World’s Fair were large events designed to showcase international achievements that were very important in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Terra Encantada was shot during the Independence Centenary International Exposition, held from 1922 to 1923 in Rio de Janeiro.
  2. Chanchada was the term given to the Brazilian popular musical comedies of the 1940s and 1950s by critics of the time. These critics considered these films to be simply bad copies of Hollywood features of the same genre. Atlântida was the most famous, but not the only, studio to produce chanchadas.
  3. I’m referring here to Christensen’s films Rei Pelé (1961), a biopic, and Cronica da Cidade Amada (1964), a widescreen film that can currently only be seen in a horribly cropped digital copy taken from a VHS tape.

Abolição | 1988

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This is not a list of films that influenced the style of the making of my film "Vassourinha: The Voice and The Void."

I just cannot create such a list, because when I went to make the film I was completely absorbed, or, possessed (as one could say, in the sense of the trance in black religions) by Vassourinha and his mystery. I found that I was operating in new and unprecedented territory, although I acknowledge there is a past tradition as a found footage filmmaker.

Born in São Paulo city, Vassourinha was an elusive sign, a forgotten personality of Brazilian music doomed to be a tiny footnote of history (at least, until the film was released). In my research and production process, made in collaboration with Bernardo Vorobow, Vassourinha appeared and disappeared, full of enigmas to be discovered.

Before and during the making of the film, I had no other films to lean on as references or inspiring sources. Instigated by Limite’s proposition, I would cite films that are in dialogue with “Vassourinha” in four aspects and axes that are groundbreaking yet essential for the film’s structure and concept, and to allow the film to develop its premises.

“Vassourinha: The Voice and The Void” challenges the limit of legibility. A huge amount of information is put onto the screen about someone who we all lacked information about so far. So, I mention films that deal with putting words onto the screen in counterpoint to the lack of information about the subject matter. Vassourinha recorded only 12 Samba songs, in six 78 rpm records released in 1941 and 1942, but since 1935 he was a star, singing with the famous Carmen Miranda and Francisco Alves. Therefore, I will mention films that deal with the Brazilian music genre of Samba as a treasure of national heritage and a reservoir of beauty for the nation.

“Vassourinha” is my first film to work a motif that is foundational for my filmmaking: death and mortality. The final sequence in the cemetery (where Vassourinha is buried) proposes a sort of vengeance by means of Carnival and rapture. My film works upon “the poetics of rupture, the history of ruins”, as coined by Rubem R. M. de Barros in his master dissertation (and book - "Poéticas de fragmentos: história, música popular e cinema de arquivo”, 2014) about my film. So, I will also mention films that deal with death, ghosts, and reanimating the past.

“Vassourinha” was edited by Cristina Amaral, its sound was edited by Eduardo Santos Mendes, it was mixed by José Luiz Sasso, and its end sequence was cinematographed by Carlos Reichenbach. Therefore, I will mention at the end of this list one film directed by Reichenbach, one of the most cinephilic and creative filmmakers of Brazil, which was edited by Cristina Amaral, mixed by José Luiz Sasso, and whose sound was edited by Eduardo Santos Mendes too. The main character of this film is a black woman living and working in São Paulo.
This selection of “Ten Brazilian Films that Remain in the Shadows due to Poor Accessibility” is based on my experiences as a film preservationist over the last fifteen years as well as my work as a professor and film club organizer. As a film professor and film club organizer, I often faced the difficulty of finding a copy of a film that I wanted to screen in class or at the club. However, these difficulties in accessing Brazilian films has changed over time. For example, In the mid-2000s, I and some friends ran a film club dedicated to Brazilian films at the Museum of Modern Art FilmArchive in Rio de Janeiro (Cinemateca do MAM) called“Cineclube Tela Brasilis”. There, we had the chance of using the vast collection of film prints of the MAM Film Archive and we usually chose films that people couldn’t find anywhere else. So, we often programmed 35mm or 16mm prints of Brazilian films that weren’t available in other carriers, either video or digital. Some of the films we screened then are still widely rare and unknown as they haven’t been digitized since that time. In this list compiled for Limite, Veneno is one of the titles we screened in Tela Brasilis program of July 25th, 2009. On the other hand, the short film Bossa Nova: a moderna música popular brasileira, also in this list, is a title that we wanted to show in one of Tela Brasilis exhibitions, but we couldn’t, as there was only a preservation master, but no exhibition print, neither on film nor digital. 

As a film professor at Federal Fluminense University (UFF), whereI have been teaching courses on Brazilian Film History to graduate students for almost ten years, the problem is quite different. In the classroom, I am only able to screen DVDs or digital files, which often limits the selection of Brazilian features from the silent period to the 1940s that I can show. Unfortunately, many titles that are important to show to students exist only in very bad digital copies taken from VHS tapes, which is the case of Alô, Alô, Carnaval, for instance. That’s why I’ve occasionally taken the opportunity to bring my students to the MAM Film Archive for their classes, where we would screen films in beautiful 35mm prints, something that my students are not used anymore. That was when I was able to watch, for example, a 35mm print of É Simonal (mentioned in the list) that was borrowed from the Cinemateca Brasileira’s collection.
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Abolição | 1988

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Compasso de Espera was conceived by Zózimo Bulbul and Antunes Filho in response to the lack of opportunities for Black professionals in the film industry in the late 1960s. The film’s direct confrontation of racial issues in Brazil didn’t sit well with the censorship department of the Military Dictatorship that ruled the country, and when it was finally released six years after completion, only three copies were made for its commercial release, which significantly reduced its chances of reaching a larger audience. To this day, this poignant anti-racist film remains underseen, and is better remembered as the source of the film stock with which Bulbul would make his directorial debut, the seminal short film Soul in the Eye (1973). In this video essay, Juliano Gomes and Mariana Nunes delve deeper into the symbolisms of Compasso de Espera.


watch Compasso De Espera on youtube
Questions by
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Abolição | 1988

Questions by

Abolição | 1988

It should come as no surprise that in Brazil, as in most so-called “underdeveloped” countries, the question of cultural memory and access to history as dictated by the archive is far more precarious than one approaching the subject from the relative wealth of the United States or Europe. There are far more gaps, erasures, and interstices for pieces of Brazilian culture to fall into with a much higher frequency, which is a condition both of political determination and physical incapability. On this second factor, one need only be pointed to the fact that a historical Brazilian film studio had to burn its nitrate prints from the golden era of the 40s and 50s after new safety film copies were made, for fear of the entire studio burning down due to the combination of nitrate film and tropical heat. For a Brazilian archivist—or their counterpart on the side of production, the found footage filmmaker—therefore, the task of even taking the first steps toward the gathering of documents for their work is an arduous one sure to be met with many frustrations, barring a situation where one’s subject has an exceptionally well-kept estate.

Thus such cultural workers find their labor to be determined under the sign of fragmentation, and we find the most compelling work to be that which wears this mark as one of pride and uses its form to reflect its material inconsistencies. Carlos Adriano has worked with Brazil’s cinematic archives for over twenty years, creating films that both preserve and project the gaps and other forms of lack that he encounters when faced with the heretofore undocumented sections of Brazil’s past.
Image by Giorgia Prates
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It should come as no surprise that in Brazil, as in most historically so-called “underdeveloped” countries, the question of cultural memory and access to history as dictated by the archive is far more precarious than one approaching the subject from the relative wealth of the United States or Europe. There are far more gaps, erasures, and interstices for pieces of Brazilian culture to fall into with a much higher frequency, which is a condition both of political determination and physical incapability. On this second factor, one need only be pointed to the fact that Atlântida Cinematográfica—the Brazilian film studio responsible for the majority of chanchada films—had to burn its nitrate prints from the golden era of the 40s and 50s after new safety film copies were made, for fear of the entire studio burning down due to the combination of nitrate film and tropical heat. Therefore, for a Brazilian archivist — or their counterpart on the side of production, the found footage filmmaker —the task of even taking the first steps toward the gathering of documents for their work is an arduous one sure to be met with many frustrations, barring a situation where one’s subject has an exceptionally well-kept estate.

Thus Brazilian cultural workers find their labor to be determined under the sign of fragmentation, and we find the most compelling work to be that which wears this mark as one of pride and uses its form to reflect its material inconsistencies. Carlos Adriano has worked with Brazil’s cinematic archives for over twenty years, creating films that both preserve and project the gaps and other forms of lack that he encounters when faced with the heretofore undocumented sections of Brazil’s past.
  1. Universal Exhibition or the World’s Fair were large events designed to showcase international achievements that were very important in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Terra Encantada was shot during the Independence Centenary International Exposition, held from 1922 to 1923 in Rio de Janeiro.
  2. Chanchada was the term given to the Brazilian popular musical comedies of the 1940s and 1950s by critics of the time. These critics considered these films to be simply bad copies of Hollywood features of the same genre. Atlântida was the most famous, but not the only, studio to produce chanchadas.
  3. I’m referring here to Christensen’s films Rei Pelé (1961), a biopic, and Cronica da Cidade Amada (1964), a widescreen film that can currently only be seen in a horribly cropped digital copy taken from a VHS tape.

Limite: Can you describe how you originally came upon the figure of Vassourinha? As a found-footage filmmaker, were you actively searching for a new topic to explore, or did Vassourinha come into your life in a more unexpected way?
Carlos Adriano: One can say that, until my feature documentary Santos Dumont: pré-cineasta? (2010), those of my films which deal with found footage or archive material share a common and essential mark: they are all about unknown, forgotten or lost subjects of Brazilian culture (and their remaining materials). For example: Remainiscences (1994-1997) is about the supposed first film footage of Brazil (registered in 1897); Militancy (2001-2002) is about the magic lantern by photographer Militão Augusto de Azevedo; Porviroscope (2004-2006) is about the only film made by writer Monteiro Lobato (as well as the only audio recording of his voice); From the Ruins to the Rexistance (2004-2007) is about the unfinished films by poet Décio Pignatari; Santoscope = Dumontage (2007-2009) is about a mutoscope film (1901) featuring Brazilian inventor and aviator Santos Dumont. So Vassourinha is a coherent subject, from a “retrospective” perspective. Personally, I was very fond of him as an original singer, one who takes part in a “low-key” tradition which includes Orlando Silva (in his first phase), Mário Reis, Roberto Silva and João Gilberto. This tradition would commonly feature a kind of singing close to the spoken words, a “canto falado” ("spoken song"). I had Vassourinha’s record long before the idea of making the film. In a way, the film is a sort of fan’s tribute. Besides, the tragedy of Vassourinha’s life—that of dying at the young age of 19 from a rare disease—is a matter relating to another axis of my film work (mortality, death, and life). Also, the extreme rarity of the subject—an artist about whom very little information and documentation was left—was an interest as well. Vassourinha came into my life as unexpectedly as all good fortunes, by a loving chance.
L: Upon learning more about Vassourinha, and deciding to make a film about him, how did you begin the process of putting together the immense number of photographs, sounds, newspaper clippings, music sheets and even financial records that can be found within A Voz e o Vazio: A Vez de Vassourinha? Were these records presented to you within a single archive or did you undergo a long research process throughout numerous places to track this material down? Take us through what this collection process was like.
CA: The great starting point is encapsulated in the loop I edited from the two words of the Emília song at the beginning of the film: “Ninguém sabe, ninguém sabe, ninguém sabe…” (“Nobody knows…”). I started with almost nothing, only a few clips and clues. After an extensive (and intense) inquiry—somewhere between archaeology and detective work—I and Bernardo Vorobow (co-producer and my life long companion)1 conducted research across every possible source, until we got two personal albums of news clippings gathered by Vassourinha himself. One of them was given to me generously by Alberto Helena Junior, a big fan and high scholar of Vassourinha; the other album I got from what remained of the singer’s family: a foster brother. All six 78 rpm records recorded by Vassourinha which were used in the film for shooting and recording (all sound in the film came from those discs) belong to the Miécio Caffé private collection.2 The Miécio Caffé collection was at that time deposited at Museu da Imagem e do Som (São Paulo). I was fortunate to meet Raul Duarte in person, the radio producer/director who hired Vassourinha to sing for Radio Record, and to talk to a doctor who treated Vassourinha during his last hospitalization. The very path of the research process dictated the film’s structure: a huge amount of information about someone whom people knew almost nothing about. Shards, specters, remains – the matter life is composed of. The collection process is, in a way, metaphorized in the end sequence at the cemetery: the search for his grave was like the search for his life-work information.
L: When watching A Voz e o Vazio: A Vez de Vassourinha, one gets the sense that they are witnessing the re-birth of a defining Samba figure of the 20th century. However, it is not one, two, or three historical documents that contribute to this feeling, but the hundreds that are sutured together through a dialectical montage of both sound and image which brings forth the presence and rhythm of Samba, life, death, mortality, and memory. It is important to note that in the film, many of these documents do not even appear on the screen for a long enough period of time for the viewer to fully read them.

The materiality of the record and its presence reigns supreme in Vassourinha. You never make fact-claims about who he was, what he wanted, or what he did, but you let these historical materials do the talking themselves. How does this speak to your larger philosophy on archival materials, and how does the cinematic medium afford you the tools to activate said material?


CA: I think that this sense of witnessing a “re-birth” or a “re-defining” of a forgotten icon is natural, as one of the film’s purposes is to make Vassourinha alive again, “simply” as it is. As the film is a gesture of love (a labor of life, a labor of love), this feeling comes forward from the screen and toward the face of the viewer/listener. Maybe it is not so accurate to say that Vassourinha is unknown, because during his time he was very famous. He fell into oblivion afterwards, after his death, aftermath. In Portuguese, the word "olvido" (oblivion) is akin to "ouvido" (ear), and this is a password I tried to work formally, as a way of aesthetic operation: representing the limits between forgetfulness and the rescuing of this forgetfulness through the act of hearing this artist's voice. But his voice fell into a void; so I felt that my “mission” (in terms of my respect to this human being and his art) was to pay the highest tribute: to create a true dialogue. I was fortunate enough to be able to gather that huge amount of historical documentation about somebody who “nobody knew anything about”. The film works around the limits of legibility, the border between reading and understanding. And it was exactly this contradiction — the fact that there existed plenty of documents about an elusive figure — which sutured together and fortified strength of the film. The fact that “these documents do not even appear on the screen for a long enough period of time for the viewer to fully read them” was an operational choice I made in order to “translate” the sign and the myth of Vassourinha. The best testimony I would be able to provide (besides the best and most sincere tribute to Vassourinha’s art) was to “let these historical materials do the talking themselves” – but articulated by proper tools of the cinematic medium, as far as its power to construct (and deconstruct) associations by the means of cinema’s supreme muse of montage (“editing” would be a word that does not give justice to the work itself). My humble task was of a [Walter] Benjaminian nature: to gather this bag of rags and suggest a coherent constellation.
"In Portuguese, the word “olvido” (oblivion) is akin to “ouvido” (ear), and this is a password I tried to work formally, as a way of aesthetic operation: representing the limits between forgetfulness and the rescuing of this forgetfulness through the act of hearing this artist’s voice"
L: Of the five films you have made which deal with forgotten cultural histories of Brazil,3 this is the only one that deals exclusively with a musician. How did the work of sifting through the archives of a sambista differ from those of your films which focus on cinematic history? Or is there a reoccurring methodology in your approach towards bringing archival materials into re-existence?
CA: I am not quite sure if there is any difference – from my point of view of the filmmaking-operation – between working upon an archive of a sambista and working upon the archive an artist of a different medium (literature, photography, caricature). Because film is “mine”, my operational mode of work; when I work on an artist’s oeuvre, I try to understand and translate their bare essentials to my vocabulary (my personal film language), to be in tune to their artistic mood. As you can read in one of the news clips, Vassourinha performed “De Babado”, a song written by Noel Rosa and João Mina, and recorded by Noel Rosa e Marília Batista in 1936. This record appears in a sequence of Santoscope = Dumontage – and of course I bear in mind that connection. The first record album (33 rpm) released with all the six sambas recorded by Vassourinha in the late 60s had its cover designed by Miécio Caffé, a famous (but also fallen into oblivion) caricaturist and music collector and tons of Brazilians singers came to browse the private collection of old 78 rpm records of Miécio to research and study. To cite just two: Chico Buarque and João Gilberto — the legendary re-interpretations of Brazilian sambas by João Gilberto would not be possible without the collection of Miécio Caffé. In 2003, I made the film A Caffé with Miécio and for that film Caetano Veloso made a new recording of a lesser-known samba, “A Voz do Povo”, originally composed by Malfitano and Frasão and recorded by Orlando Silva in 1941. Veloso called the samba a manifesto for my cinema work. Yes, there is a reoccurring methodology in my approach towards bringing archival materials into re-existance, to quote the title of my film about Pignatari’s unfinished films – note that I imply a play between « existence » and « resistance », which configure a key pair into play.
L: The history of cultural archives in Brazil is filled with stories of loss, tragedy, and neglect. However, one could also view this story as an occasional tale of triumph, as the will of a few individuals succeeded in preserving Brazilian cultural memory up until this day. Their efforts have allowed us to glean new ideas from historical works of Brazilian art in our present moment.

As a found-footage filmmaker, many of your works deal with the forgotten cultural memories of Brazil’s past. Can you speak to how the history and past efforts of Brazilian cultural preservation has impacted your work? Why, in your mind, have such important figures such as Vassourinha been (previously) forgotten?
CA: There is a  trajectory of academic research in my life. I graduated from film school of Escola de Comunicações e Artes da USP – University of São Paulo (ECA-USP). I have my master degree and my PhD (2008) at the same USP, both advised by Prof. Ismail Xavier. Besides this, I did two Post Doctorals, one in the Arts (at Pontifical Catholic University – PUC-SP, 2014) supervised by Prof. Arlindo Machado, and one in Film (at USP, 2017) supervised by Prof. Cristian Borges. For my PhD and my Post-Doctoral at PUC-SP I had fellowships from Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP) and for my Post-Doctoral at USP I had a fellowship from CAPES. That long and boring CV quote is just meant to show how serious I take scholarly research and how, throughout my life, spheres of study and archiving informed my trajectory. I have also worked at the Cinemateca Brasileira from 1986 to 1999.                                                        

Perhaps I could reply to your first question with an example from a case study. My PhD research (which made the way for the production of two films about Santos Dumont) was based on an unknown object of the Santos Dumont Collection of Museu Paulista da USP (aka Museu do Ipiranga). It was an unidentified object in terms of year and origin of production, its technical nature, and even its attributed name was wrong and misleading – but it was there, in the archive. After taking a research path alike the one pursued in Vassourinha’s, I identified that it was a mutoscope hub, produced in 1901 by the British branch of American Mutoscope & Biograph Company, probably shot by William K.L. Dickson, and subsequently tracked its archival history. The last sentence of your question requires too large of an explanation, so I would hazard a risk of saying in short that I think Brazil historically has a consistent tradition of treating badly and worst its best sons and daughters, mainly in the realm of culture.
L: In Vassourinha, there are moments in which the soundtrack starts and stops, as if a 78 rpm record is skipping. This is often accompanied on the image track by a flicker effect. Knowing your affinities to other found footage filmmakers such as Ken Jacobs, how do you see this flicker effect operating in relation to its use in other global contexts, and is there something about the Brazilian archive, and the life of Vassourinha, that drove you to use said effect?
CA: I could only talk about my personal use of the flicker (which is, of course, rooted in a tradition of avant-garde film), a feature that I use a lot in my films. In Santoscope = Dumontage, the flicker is a structural-film device extracted from the mutoscope apparatus itself that hosted the original 1901 film about Santos Dumont which I worked on. In the case of Vassourinha, the flicker has a role a little bit analogous to the one I used in Remainiscences: in the sense of gaps, lapses, missing links, lost abysses, the void. But in Vassourinha there is a surplus: the flicker as an instance of consciousness, as a moment when the shutter quickly obliterates the image to make it resonate in time; so the flicker is a constituent element of the fabric tissue of Vassourinha's history (which has been torn to pieces), but it is also a device for understanding this history. There is even a formal rhyme with the condition of his Blackness, in the sense of what is concealed or erased. It is as if the flicker was a correspondent to Walter Benjamin's “dialectical image”, that brief and elusive moment when associations sparkle beyond historical time. I really like the Benjaminian notion of history, both as waste and ruins and as the viewpoint of the losers. Naturally, in a peripheral country like Brazil — which has always abused its institutions tasked with the preservation of its cultural memory, and which has a long and dark past of erasing and repressing its figures(rooted in its history with slavery) — the flicker reaches an profound allegorical power (and I use this term as Ismail Xavier so well defined it in his seminal book Allegories of Underdevelopment) in a way, far beyond the formal flicker wonders of Peter Kubelka, Ken Jacobs, Tony Conrad and others.
L: A Voz e o Vazio: A Vez de Vassourinha, in addition to being a work of art invested in the gesture of resurrection, also serves, even unprojected as a roll of celluloid, as a veritable repository of images and documentation relating to Vassourinha – an archive in itself. What do you make of this and how do you feel the historical material transforms when it passes from one medium to another?
CA: Definitely, Vassourinha film is an analog piece of art – it was thought and made as a 35mm film. And I treasure most the concept of “infinite film” by Hollis Frampton, in his meta-history essay, which I “translated” in my PhD thesis to the domain of found footage. My PhD piece has not been published as a book yet, but you can browse it at the University of São Paulo’s thesis database and I published an essay based on it in the journal Anais do Museu Paulista. I took all the documents of Vassourinha I could find and gathered them as “frames” of an infinity film – all materials are matter of film poetry. I regret that you are not able to screen the film in its original format of 35mm. I made some disruptive turns with the celluloid that are only fully accomplished in film form. The “resurrection” you mention is taken in (and made by means of) the celluloid itself. Besides the flickering, I used veils, those mysterious frames which are not properly exposed in the camera shutter. Except for the final sequence, shot on location in the set of the cemetery where Vassourinha is buried, the film was shot with an Oxberry animation machine. One of the highest praises of which I am most proud is about my style of editing: even when editing in a digital suite, my work is tributary to the moviola. In the sense of passing from the medium of history to the medium of film, I would say that the transformation occurs in the realm of poetry. I take the word here to mean poetics, the method of structure, a matter of form, a way of shaping materials and thoughts. And I would say that historians like Walter Benjamin, Aby Warburg and Hayden White have contributed to let the document free, to be reappropriated by the artists.
L: Important Brazilian Cinema historians such as Vicente de Paula Araújo (A Bela Época do Cinema Brasileiro, 1976), Alex Viany (Introdução ao Cinema Brasileiro, 1959), and Paulo Emilio Salles Gomes (Cinema: Trajetória no Subdesenvolvimento, written in the 60s, but first published in 1986) were forced to search for fragments of the past and to uncover footnotes of history in order to paint a picture of bygone cinematic eras for then-present and future generations. To what extent does a work such as Vassourinha follow within that trajectory of historical research, and how in your mind does it deviate from it?
CA: To work with fragments – with the remains, with the small details at the bottom of the page –  is an attitude professed by the École dos Annales and historians like Benjamin and Warburg. The film historians you mentioned worked from a peripheral point of view, where issues of underdevelopment were very present in Brazil, and they were informed by the delayed experience of modernity in Brazil. They definitely conjured up a key body of work and provided references for anybody else interested in the adventure of investigating the Brazilian film past. I think Vassourinha is part of this tradition you mentioned in the sense of a deep research on profoundly national roots, as if the issue of national identity was a crucial and defining issue, and a kind of adhesion to popular subjects in the way defended by Brazilian Modernism (Mário de Andrade, Oswald de Andrade). The elements from popular culture were taken as a password for a revelation of Brazil to Brazilians themselves. As far as Paula Araújo is concerned, my research method is somewhat like his, sharing the deep dive into the primary sources of reference materials. As far as Paulo Emílio is concerned, my mind operates within the same framework as his: a sort of sociological inquiry about the human fact. I think that Vassourinha deviates from this tradition insofar as it radically assumes a notion of a poetic metahistory, in the sense that it is not obliged to clarify nor conclude anything as far as a national project is defined in terms of teleology and a big synthesis. I treasure the gaps, the lapses, the mysterious inconclusiveness; the serious research does not serve to any sort of “redemption” of our pride – the works and the artists compose a moving (in-motion; emotional) constellation.
L: In your essay “Found Footage and Magnetization of Affection” you bring forth from Hollis Frampton’s concept of “Infinite Cinema” the ideal of an “Infinite Archive”. The concept stems from cinema’s relationship to the digital age, and the endless ability to “digitally recycle cinema’s beginnings”. Elsewhere, referring to Aby Warburg and Georges Didi-Huberman’s notion of the Leitfossil, you claim that “In my wonder-room, there is no such thing as a dead archive; just living archives, asleep in their forms”.

Both the notion of an “Infinite Archive” and the denial of a dead archive seem to disregard, at first glance, the seemingly finite state of archiving that has approached Brazil’s institutions for decades now. However, at a second glance, one might realize that you’re not denying the reality that there are ends within the archive, but you’re expanding on the ways in which those ends can be used within the digital age – The footage can be reproduced infinitively in an array of shapes, forms, and expressions.

Can you comment on this interpretation of your ideas? And how can the notion of “Infinite Archive” be looked at under the particular guise of the Brazilian archival situation?
CA: In my PhD thesis and in subsequent articles published in academic journals, I transferred (and transformed) Frampton’s notion to the domain of found footage. I think it is an original contribution to film studies, this conceptual montage that I do between Benjamin, Frampton and Warburg (among many other theoretical, cultural and historical notions). Moving into the geographical and socio-political-economic context of a country like Brazil would require an effort and an extension of argument that I am not capable of in the brief context of this interview. Evidently, at a first glance, the economic difficulties themselves bring other parameters to the question: how to think about the survival of images (as depositories of national memory) if the very survival of the archive (as an institution of that duty) is plagued by risks to its material contingency? On the other hand, the Brazilian condition has unique and original characteristics that distinguish it from other countries: our colonial formation, our peripheral situation, our conservative modernity, our outrageous social inequality, and the artistic and intellectual strength of several generations that have responded to these challenges. We must be reminded that film celluloid is made also of organic material, therefore subject to decay, just as we are. We must bear in mind that what survived until our time of Sappho’s poems are just fragments of her verses, and the beauty of her poetry is in part the beauty of this quality of scarcity. Paradoxically, I would imagine that the very notion of “infinite archive”, when applied to Brazil, would imply a finite cinema, the very finitude of cinema, its material and intrinsic fragility, its “human” condition.
L: As you well know, Brazil’s most important film archive, the Cinemateca Brasileira, is now going through a new crisis in which its entire collection is at risk of being destroyed. The current moment evokes in our minds a Twilight Zone-esque episode in which a found footage filmmaker wakes up to learn that there is no longer any found-footage to be found. While your work has certainly featured found footage that has been sourced beyond the walls of an archival institution, one cannot deny that these institutions are repositories for cultural works that still remain hidden from the public eye. Firstly, can you comment on the long-standing neglect of the Brazilian government to properly invest in preserving Brazilian cultural memory? Lastly, can you comment on what this potentially dystopic scenario evokes for you in relation to your body of work, aspiring found footage filmmakers, and the future of found footage filmmaking in Brazil?
CA: We are currently living under dark and terrible times in Brazil, and many public institutions related to culture (and education) are under threat, at different levels, degrees and circumstances, such as Casa de Rui Barbosa and Cinemateca Brasileira. The latter is our most recognized film archive but there are others, smaller ones, spread across cities in the country, two of which are particularly deserving of our attention and respect, possessing great collections and doing notable, good research work: Cinemateca do MAM (Modern Art Museum) and Arquivo Nacional (both in Rio de Janeiro). In the case of the Cinematic Brasileira, as well as these other archives, there is a problem that has been going on for years and it is a complex issue – what is happening now is of great urgency, because it affects basic issues of maintenance of the archive itself (in addition to the salaries of the technical staff, the current crisis affects services of electrical supply, which threats refrigeration and security). The tragedy of the fire at the Museu Nacional (Rio de Janeiro) in 2018 is as a metaphor for the lack of public commitment to national memory and heritage: the neglect turns memory into ashes. The pathetic episode of Brazilian Government (literally) taking the Cinemateca’s keys, along with that of the Museu Nacional’s fire, is a powerful symbolic image in itself. Of course, as a found-footage filmmaker I have an engagement with film archiving and I think it was not a sheer coincidence that I was commissioned to make the official film of the celebration of Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes’ centenary (A Very Personal Celebration, 2016). Personally, I have always worked with shards, leftovers, remains, incomplete fragments; lost, neglected and forgotten materials. Therefore, I am used to working in scarcity and poverty. I always keep in mind the adage that "it can always be worse", which may not ease many anxieties about the future. Horace’s “carpe diem” verses help us to face our weaknesses and uncertainties, which are much bigger now with the COVID-19 crisis.
L: Part of the astonishment in watching Vassourinha is the fact that it is so rare to see works unveiled from the archive that highlights the lives on important Black artists from the past. In a way, the film projects the role that archives should be fulling in modern-day society – that is, beyond just preserving materials, recovering and presenting heretofore repressed existences and narratives. In your mind, why did it take nearly a century for the world to be able to rediscover Vassourinha in your film? And as you yourself have worked as an archivist in the past, what do you think future archivists can learn from the film? What really is most important to save for future generations?
CA: For me it is far hard to say “why [it took] nearly a century for the world to be able to rediscover Vassourinha”… It would be tempting, and it would be a fallacy as well, to say that Vassourinha was looking forward to meet me, his art & craft was waiting for my gesture…I don’t know why it took so much time… One can think of social reasons, as he was a black boy from a poor family and he didn’t have enough time to build a fame which would endure. On the other hand, we have lots of cases of great artists in different artistic areas who were forgotten. [Found footage filmmaking is] a very personal (verging on crazily idiosyncratic) way to deal with historical artifacts, a creative form to work on history, not only in terms of salvaging the remains but to bring them back to life and to keep them alive. History serving to vibrate Vassourinha’s story. I consider myself a very materialist film maker, in the sense that I treasure most the rare and bare materials that history is made of. I think one can feel in a very palpable way a sensual materiality that my films place onto the screen. Besides the very materials themselves (the “remains”), I think it is most important as well to preserve the flavor of time – the zeitgeist – in which one lives. And that is an order of alchemy: remember Duchamp’s work “Air of Paris”. In fact, as a communist filmmaker, what would be really “most important to save for future generations” is life itself – the lives of so many artists (and thinkers) who inspire us and make us thrive. But that is far from utopia; to try to defeat death… As André Bazin put it, cinema holds a mummy complex.
L: Lastly, since the release of A Voz e o Vazio: A Vez de Vassourinha there has been a new resurgence of interest in Vassourinha’s life. Numerous famous musicians have covered his songs and there are rumors that a feature length film about his life is in the works. Do you view any of this as part of the legacy and impact that your film had? Relatedly, what do you think the likelihood is that there are hundreds of other potential Vassourinhas repressed within the archives: inimitable, historical, and most commonly Black marginalized talents whose legacies have never reached the people of Brazil beyond their time?
CA: As the most humble and the most modest man I am, I should acknowledge that my film definitely and surely had an impact of “bringing” Vassourinha “back to life”. I would hate to look pretentious, but it is a fact: I did contribute to make Vassourinha more well-known and more appreciated. My film went on front covers of the two main newspapers in São Paulo (first page of cultural supplements) which are the main ones in Brazil. I would not compare myself to the status some give Ezra Pound, as being the re-inventor of Provençal to modern times, a poet who embraces a work of translation and criticism; but it is almost that…in a way, I did “invent” Vassourinha for contemporary times, and I am proud that it was made within an avant-garde mode of film. After my film was released, Caetano Veloso (who had already known my films at that time) approached me about a project proposed by Paula Lavigne (his wife and manager) of re-releasing Vassourinha’s original records along with a set of Caetano and Chico Buarque performing new versions of Vassourinha’s repertoire. My film was to be a key piece in that project, in concerts and in a possible DVD release along with the CD; unfortunately that did not go further for some reason, maybe because a label decided instead to hastily release Vassourinha’s songs. Surely there are “other potential Vassourinhas repressed within the archives”: during my research for making the Vassourinha film, I myself found a kind of female Vassourinha almost in the same style–straw hat, syncopated samba–not so famous at her time like Vassourinha, performing from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s, then completely forgotten by the public. I could find only six 78rpm recordings of her chant-voice (half of Vassoruinha’s entire discography). I would love to make a film about her, but 22 years have already passed by and I have not made it yet…a companion to Vassourinha, in fashion and musical style, her voice has remained indeed lost to a deeper void.
1. Bernardo Vorobow (1946-2009), in addition to being Adriano’s partner until his death in 2009, served as director and programmer of the Society of Cinematheque Friends (Sociedade Amigos da Cinemateca, 1970–75); the film coordinator and programmer at the Museum of Contemporary Art at the University of São Paulo (Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo, 1972–76); founder, director, and programmer of the Film Department at the Museum of Image and Sound (Museu da Imagem e do Som, São Paulo, 1975–85); as well as founder, director, and programmer of the Diffusion and Program Department of the Brazilian Cinematheque (Cinemateca Brasileira, 1982–99), then programmer until 2009.

2. Miécio Caffé would be the subject of Adriano’s 2003 film A Caffé with Miécio.

3. Mario de Andrade’s re-missions (forthcoming), Vassourinha: the voice and the void (1998), Militancy (2001-2002), Porviscope (2004-2006), and From the ruins to the rexistence (2004-2007).
Photo by Giorgia Prates
The following interview took place with archivist Hernani Heffner on July 4th, 2020. Heffner has been working at Rio de Janeiro’s historic Cinemateca do MAM since 1996 and is one of Brazil’s most important film archivists. When we spoke on July 4th a lot was different in the world of Brazilian film preservation. At that point, Heffner held the position of chief conservator at the Cinemateca do MAM. Also, São Paulo’s Cinemateca Brasileira, Brazil’s most important film archive, was amidst a major economic crisis. The institution’s bills and its workers had not been paid for months, and as a result of this the workers went on strike. Since then, Heffner has been made the director of the Cinemateca do MAM -- certainly a cause for celebration -- but the crisis at the Cinemateca Brasileira continues, with its future remaining uncertain. On August 12 the Cinemateca Brasileira’s forty-one employees were dismissed from their positions without having received their due payments, and the institution remains without any specialized archival staff. More information about the most recent events related to the Cinemateca Brasileira can be found here.

At the moment of writing this introduction, the collection of films at the Cinemateca Brasileira remains at imminent risk, as the Brazilian government continues to fail in providing the serious and necessary federal support that this institution deserves. Despite having taken place over one month ago, this conversation with Hernani Heffner loses no relevance, as we dealt with the particularities of Brazilian Cinema and Brazilian film preservation from a transnational context. Heffner touches on issues such as access to Brazilian cinema in the digital age, our current precarious state of global unrest, and he provides an overview of the Cinemateca do MAM for those unfamiliar with the important institution. Heffner’s revolutionary approach to film preservation shines clear throughout our dialogue, and we at Limite are very excited to observe and support the undeniable impact he will have on the field of film preservation as the new Director of the Cinemateca do MAM.
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  1. Universal Exhibition or the World’s Fair were large events designed to showcase international achievements that were very important in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Terra Encantada was shot during the Independence Centenary International Exposition, held from 1922 to 1923 in Rio de Janeiro.
  2. Chanchada was the term given to the Brazilian popular musical comedies of the 1940s and 1950s by critics of the time. These critics considered these films to be simply bad copies of Hollywood features of the same genre. Atlântida was the most famous, but not the only, studio to produce chanchadas.
  3. I’m referring here to Christensen’s films Rei Pelé (1961), a biopic, and Cronica da Cidade Amada (1964), a widescreen film that can currently only be seen in a horribly cropped digital copy taken from a VHS tape.

William Plotnick: Can you comment on the recent news surrounding the Cinemateca Brasileira?

Hernani Heffner: The crisis of the Cinemateca Brasileira has worsened this week. The institution is in a dangerous situation because there are no firefighters or guards, the employees are all on strike, and the government has said nothing. It’s a bad situation that is only worsening.

WP: Do you think there might be some light at the end of the tunnel? Is it possible that some of these issues can soon be resolved and things can return to normal?

HH: I don’t think so because Brazil has a president who is a terrible person. Bolsonaro doesn’t give a damn about our culture, our art, or about preservation. There remain no public policies for the preservation sector. There have been five different secretaries of culture in the last fifteen months, and the work in this sector has completely come to a halt. Brazil is now dealing with a resurgence in right-wing ideologies and thought, and even the president’s son has been implicated in scandals of corruption. All of this has paralyzed the country, and it has halted any previous intentions to develop some kind of policy concerning culture, arts, and preservation.

WP: Due to recent social injustices such as the murder of George Floyd, people throughout the world have begun re-evaluating their national histories. Social-justice protests are sparking up, and monuments erected to commemorate visions of the past built on the fruits of slavery and colonialism, are either being absconded with or torn down. In Brazil, São Paulo’s O Monumento às Bandeiras serves as such a reminder, immortalizing Brazil’s settler colonialists and their genocidal trek into the country’s interior.

To what extent do these recent historical evaluations and conversations exemplify the very crisis that the Cinemateca Brasileira is going through right now, as the institution is the safeguard of that history? And how do you perceive the fact that during the moment when the Brazilian people will need to be able to have access to their collective histories the most, the existence of those histories are being threatened?


HH: Brazil is a country that has a long colonial past. For three hundred years we moved forward on this colonial path, and many things from that time period remain today, especially the racism towards black people. The Brazilian elite portray our country like an aristocracy, providing a misleading conception to those outsiders looking in as to what the day to day life for most Brazilians is like. 

In a country with social and economic conditions so distant from one class to another, there is no real democracy. There is no democracy if the people do not perceive a sense of community among each other. A sense of respect. A sense of doing the work to construct a society that includes all persons. If you are a divided society, there is no real democracy and no real social justice. This kind of society, of course, works against the interests of the people.

If I can trace a parallel between the current moment in the United States and the current moment in Brazil - in the United States, you can disagree with the broadcasting of a film like Gone with the Wind (1939) and force the movie to be removed from broadcasting. In the United States, there is no discussion about destroying this film, destroying its materials, destroying the negatives or the prints or the digital copies. People don’t suggest the idea of destroying works that glorify racism, colonialism, imperialism, or authoritarianism because they know that it is important to be able to see these works in order to criticize them.  

But in Brazil, it’s another story. In Brazil, cinema is not important for the elite, and it isn’t thought to represent them. Although most of the time cinema is a very popular expression of art, Brazilian cinema doesn’t have a huge market in Brazil. This is because the people that make these films are coming from the lower classes, and therefore the elite actively choose to ignore these works. The Cinemateca Brasileira, the most important film archive in Brazil, which contains an enormous collection of films, is an institution that does not represent a valuable collection for the government or for the elite. According to them, if you lose the collection of the Cinemateca Brasileira, what important material have you lost? The musical comedies, called chanchadas in Brazil? The films from the Cinema Novo movement, the Cinema Marginal movement, or the state-produced films from Embrafilme? What value do these things have? They consider them all to be like soap operas!

Brazilian cinema is very important. It has received numerous prizes throughout the world, been screened in the main selections at Cannes, Venice, Berlin, and some titles have been nominated for the Oscars. But the reality in Brazilian society is that this collection, this national cinema, is not perceived as important. These works that criticize social problems and that criticize the racism of Brazilian society are often pushed aside and treated as works of little value. When Nelson Pereira dos Santos began his career in 1955 with a film called Rio, 40 Graus, he introduced the favela and the slum to Brazilian cinema. He discussed the situation of Black people and especially poor black people, pointing a finger at the elites of the country. ‘What do you do for these people?’, ‘Why are these people put aside from the main social policies in the country?’, he asked. The government is not preoccupying themselves with the kind of developmental policies that you learn about when watching films, and they therefore do not think about preserving these kinds of artistic expressions, these kinds of films, or these kinds of materials. So, if you lost, for example, the huge collection that the Cinemateca Brasileira is holding, you would be losing almost nothing for these kinds of people. This isn’t something the elite has just made apparent now during the current crisis, but this has been the case for a long time.

WP: In your opinion, what can we be doing throughout the world to stand with Brazilian cinema, the Brazilian film industry, and with the workers of the Cinemateca Brasileira during this difficult moment in time?

HH: Well, the answer is simple: people in Brazil, in the United States, and throughout the world must create value for our national cinema. We can create value for its past, for numerous rare films, and for the preservation of their materials. We can create value by spreading news about Brazilian cinema, by spreading the works through streaming, Blu-rays, and with old DVDs or even VHS tapes. We can find new ways to spread the films to academics, to artists, and to the film community in the United States to influence cinephilic perception at large so that they realize that it is important to access these films and that it is important to know about Brazilian Cinema.

It is also imperative that the cinema-watching audience at large knows that Brazilian Cinema has created and continues to create very original ways of expression in film. In order to create a better world, people must have access to Brazilian cinema, African cinema, Malaysian Cinema, to know that there are other film cultures, there are other languages, and there are other forms of expressions in cinema that are as equally important as what they typically see. If you believe that there is a center, and that the greatest films revolve around this center, then you keep an old value system alive which says that films that are not European or American are poorer works of cinema. We must do away with this by holding screenings, creating cine-clubs (and operating microcinemas — Ed.), writing theses and papers, holding debates, including the works at festivals, airing them on television channels, and including them in streaming platforms. If you create cultural exchange between two or more countries, two or more national expressions, then one begins to learn why the other acts a certain way or does the things that they do.

If you invest in Brazilian cinema in this way, you begin to understand more about the commonly held misconception that Brazilian cinema is bad cinema. You learn that Brazilian cinema is not considered poor because there are no production facilities, nor because there is no money, but because it exudes a form of conscious expression against a foreign cinema that is dominant in the Brazilian market. This conscious expression was created at a moment in Brazilian cinema history, and it was an incredibly profound moment. Brazilian cinema has a very distinctive form of expression which includes its cultures, its landscapes, and its worldview. Yet the fact of the matter is that today, Brazilian cinema history is almost unknown all over the world.

"people in Brazil, in the United States, and throughout the world must create value for our national cinema. We can create value for its past, for numerous rare films, and for the preservation of their materials".
WP: Do you think that cultural exchange between two or more countries could incite the Brazilian government to realize the value of their own national works? Do you think a major initiative abroad, manifested in large retrospectives or more prestigious awards being given to Brazilian films, that these could be the catalyst to make the government in Brazil finally realize that they need to fund the Cinemateca Brasileira and that they need to finally support the film industry and its cultural workers in a respectful and supportive way?

HH: Of course, these kinds of recognitions create a lot of perceived value for our films, and help people realize that they are important. But in Brazilian Society, this kind of importance is very particular. The elite do not value these kinds of recognitions, and they often view the works as very destructive to their right-wing agendas.

It is important for us to sustain a fight for the permanence of Brazilian cinema, of the Cinemateca Brasileira, and of the past, but the real fight is against a larger force that reduces the country to a few people. To one social class. That reduces the country to a view that asks for a future and not for a past. This force accepts and advocates for the destruction of this past with no sorrow or pity. And we as a society must fight to transform and to change that for the better of all of us so that we can become a real democracy.

The benefit Brazilian cinema receives from being recognized around the world is very valuable because these recognitions help us sustain some kind of barrier to harmful government decisions. We can sustain the fight with that. But I believe the real fight is with another, larger force.

WP: You have been associated with the Cinemateca do MAM since 1983 and a formal employee since 1986. Can you tell me about the history of this archive, and provide an idea about what makes it unique, for those less familiar with its operations?

HH: We at the Cinemateca do MAM are only a little archive. In the 60s the director was Cosme Alves Netto, who was very influential in the film preservation movement. He led a movement in which colonial countries or countries that were considered ‘third world’ could learn about film preservation. Cosme asked all the American and European archives for help in constructing film archives in these under-developed countries, because during that time, and in fact still today, these archives have no money, no structure, and no workers. These institutions are facing an enormous task to preserve their entire national cinemas. Today, I think very little has changed from that situation. The same American and European archives are incredibly well funded, while film archives from poorer underdeveloped countries are in the same position.

The Cinemateca do MAM suffered a huge crisis in the beginning of the 21st century, in 2002 and 2003. We were almost closed by a decision of our main institution, the Modern Art Museum. However, we survived. Because of this, we tried to become more connected with important international film preservation communities such as FIAF and AMIA. We also received some important guests here at the archive such as Ray Edmunson, who is a very important thinker about the philosophy of film preservation. We tried to further understand what was happening in the field in the 21st century and what our place was within the larger picture. This was an important moment for us in realizing what we can do at the Cinemateca do MAM to serve the film preservation community of Brazil.

One important thing that we do at the Cinemateca do MAM is provide educations in film preservation. We also send some students and interns to take courses at Filmoteca Española to really learn the skills of film preservation and work in that field. Especially during a time when we are going through the transition from film to predominately digital formats, it is very important to have a new work force in our country ready to meet the technical challenges that come along with this transition. Our program working with the Filmoteca Española ended up being very successful because 20-25 young people discovered a passion for film preservation and decided to have careers in that area. And also, there are even now five or six of my own former students who are working at the Cinemateca Brasileira.

Another thing at that we attempt to facilitate at the Cinemateca do MAM is the presence of foreign students in Brazil. We are a privately run archive so we are open to receiving students from Greece, France, Argentina, the United States, and other countries. It is important for us to receive these students because they will encounter an archive with less money than the national archives they have at home, and with worse conditions to preserve films. This provides them with a more realistic view as to what film archiving is like around the world for those supposedly on the periphery. It is important to us that these people have a perception of these problems, and that they can begin thinking about the best ways to solve them.

Additionally, an important intervention that the Cinemateca do MAM has made in the preservation area is focusing on preserving marginal films, especially experimental works, because in Brazil only a small space is given for this mode of filmmaking. First, we created an experimental cine-club and after that we decided to receive a festival concerning experimental cinema, DOBRA - Festival Int'l de Cinema Experimental. This was very successful because we became the main space in Brazil for presenting that kind of cinema.

We are a little archive with only seven people. So, we try to bring forth smaller initiatives and create a big impact. We try to facilitate the synchronization of information, the synchronization of people, and the synchronization of films. We are what I consider a 'hub’. We are not the terminal, we are not the first step, we are a hub in film preservation in Brazil and we can aggregate some materials, some films, some information, and make connections with a larger array of people. For a little archive, I think that this is a very important position to hold.

"Especially during a time when we are going through the transition from film to predominately digital formats, it is very important to have a new work force in our country ready to meet the technical challenges that come along with this transition."
WP: Can you talk about the ways in the Cinemateca do MAM and the Cinemateca Brasileira have provided access to their collections digitally? The Cinemateca Brasileira, for example, provides access to some of their collections through BCC (Banco de Conteúdos Culturais).

HH: Providing basic access to Brazilian cinema is an old problem in the world of film archives in Brazil. People are not familiar with Brazilian cinema. Why is that? Why are Brazilian people not more familiar with the history of their own national production? It isn’t because we don’t have the proper skills, instruments, spaces, or strategies to provide access to this national cinema. In Brazil, one of the structural problems in the cultural sector is represented by the fact that various states have created many institutions to preserve Brazilian history, but don’t put effort into making sure the public has access to this history. The Cinemateca Braisleira is an example of this. The history of Brazilian cinema is there. But getting access to these works is very difficult. The old Brazilian cinema is there, most of the 20th century Brazilian cinema is there, but the access to this past is very difficult. Using the BCC is very difficult because there is always a huge watermark placed over the film. With this logo there in the center of the frame, you cannot see the film in the proper way.

We need to try to provide access to Brazilian cinema in the best way possible, because people need to know that these treasures exist. If they can’t have this basic access, the films will become ignored and lose their value to the public. We must prevent this and make a complete 180 degree turn in policy when it comes to access.

WP: To what extent do the copyright laws make it hard to effect these changes?

HH: In my opinion, the copyright laws are not a problem. You can talk to the producers, you can talk to the people who own these films. Most of the time, anyway, it is the archives performing the technical elements such as creating new prints of the films and digitizing them. This comes from funds provided from the archives and the states, and not the producers.

Those people who refuse to provide access to the works that they own, are using a strategy of power. They are attempting to control who can see what, and for which price. Because of that, many works of Brazilian cinema are invisible in the world. The dangers of this is that in fifty years, people may no longer be interested our cinema at all. Today, we live in an information society, and in this digital world, people move forward from the past very quickly due to free exchange and the forward direction of freely circulating content.

Going hand in hand with this is the fact that we need to be making good digital copies of films and making them available on the internet. Copyright owners can find ways to get 2K or 4K versions of their works, and even make a profit from them. Once the spectator is connected with this good digital copy, and they begin to personally relate to the film, they will begin to ask for more of this type of content. This puts that viewer in the running to become deeply interested in discovering the many pearls of cinema to be found throughout Brazilian film history.

WP: Put yourself in the shoes of an international programmer interested in doing a program of Brazilian films: An enigma arises, because whether you show older works of Brazilian cinema or newer works, the material is going to be unfamiliar to the majority of those audiences. You have numerous amazing contemporary Brazilian filmmakers on one hand, whose works need to be seen and discussed, but on the other hand, you have the entire history of Brazilian cinema which many international audiences have not yet had the chance to discover. A case in point is that that there has never been a North American retrospective of Humberto Mauro.

HH: There is a contradiction in that situation, no?

In the past, the Brazilian government used to put money towards international programs of Brazilian film. In the 80s there was a huge retrospective of Brazilian cinema at the Centre Georges Pompidou in France, and in 1998 MOMA hosted another. All of these programs were sustained by the Brazilian government which commissioned new 35mm prints and paid for the transportation of said prints as well as the rest of the logistics.

When the 21st century came around, there was no longer the need to spend money sending prints around the world thanks to digital copies. The digital seemed to be the magical response towards the problem of increasing the circulation of Brazilian cinema.

But there is a huge problem with this situation as it stands. To circulate Brazilian cinema on a global scale, especially through the internet, you must be able to digitize the Brazilian films made during the 20th century. You must digitize the films in 2K, 4K, and perhaps in five or ten years, even 10K. However, in Brazil, there is no strategy, no money, and no interest to digitize these older films. Suddenly, once these works are finally digitized, we realize that there is no space being made for them. A gap has been created in their circulation and in their recognition. The new generation of filmgoers is not in contact with these works. This explains why Humberto Mauro has never received a retrospective in the United States up until today.

We desperately need a program that allows us to digitize Brazilian cinema systematically. If we do not come up with one, older works of Brazilian cinema will disappear from national and international programs and will never show up on streaming platforms for a new generation to discover. This is going to be a huge test for us because the status of the mission is critical. It is critical to spread older works of Brazilian around the world so that people can understand: what is Bacurau (Filho & Dornelles, 2019)? What is a Brazilian film about the Brazilian Northeast? What is a film like Karim Aïnouz’s Invisible Life (2019)? What kind of melodrama is that? Do these works stem from a Brazilian filmmaking tradition, or are they completely unique in Brazil’s film history? Why did a director like José Mojica Marins create this famous character of Zé do Caixão, and what does he symbolize for Brazil and for international cinema?

If you do not circulate these older films, then you can’t understand the full picture. Without the full picture, you may still think Bacurau is a great movie and that it is very attractive! But you don’t really understand the content that Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles have put in it. When the international public finally has a chance to see these older works as they were meant to be seen, it will surely be a great surprise for them because people don’t know that this cinema exists, that we have a very unique cinematographic style, and that our point of view so strongly differs from the rest of the world’s.

There needs to be a balance between both the contemporary works and the past works. They need to be able to inform one another for a larger picture of Brazilian cinema to be understood.
"It is critical to spread older works of Brazilian around the world so that people can understand: what is Bacurau (Filho & Dornelles, 2019)? What is a Brazilian film about the Brazilian Northeast? What is a film like Karim Aïnouz’s Invisible Life (2019)? What kind of melodrama is that? Do these works stem from a Brazilian filmmaking tradition, or are they completely unique in Brazil’s film history? Why did a director like José Mojica Marins create this famous character of Zé do Caixão, and what does he symbolize for Brazil and for international cinema?"
WP: Despite all this, one is tempted today to say that we are in a groundbreaking moment as far as having international access to Brazilian films. You can see a much larger presence of Brazilian films on the internet right now than there has been in the past, and many of these works are being translated into different languages too.

However, at the same time there is the sense that this access does not matter if these works are not being properly preserved. So, the digital moment is an illusion in a way – we finally have access and with subtitles, but we know the film print itself is decomposing right now within the Cinemateca Brasileira.


HH: Well, I think that this digital moment is a double illusion. On one side, the difficulties to access Brazilian films have existed for a long time, but nevertheless we must find some way to see them. So, someone takes an old VHS, or they take a poor copy, and you put these films on the internet so people can see them. Of course, this is the worst way to see the film, but when it is all that we have, it is better than nothing. The downside of this, though, is that usually, Brazilian cinema looks bad. Although Brazilian cinema is not bad in terms of its cinematography, sound, texture, and contrast, these copies give off the impression that this is so. This state of preservation causes the feeling among people that Brazilian cinema is not important. We don’t get to see our national works in all their splendor, nor in a state-of-the-art way. We don’t have state-of-the-art 4K restorations of our works. This is very tragic.

On the other side, even if we had pristine 4K digital copies of our films, we know that to present a film digitally is not to preserve it. So, we must preserve the film in its original format. You must create a positive print and an internegative, and you must preserve all the negatives in a professional way. This preservation work is not optional, but mandatory. If it is not done, the material will be lost in a span of twenty years! Then, what do we have? Just a digital copy, and this is not the same thing. Not to mention, these digital copies must be preserved in equal measure. Digital preservation is a completely separate task from that of film, with other demands, which requires different technical specifications. So, you must face the task of preserving both the digital and the physical at the same time. Preserving the materials in this way requires a huge task of planning, of creating an infrastructure of conservation, of digitization, and providing access (mostly through the internet). For us to be able to do this successfully becomes mostly a question of politics. It is a question of whether we will be provided with the necessary funds to carry this task out. It is a tragedy that our cinematic heritage remains put aside on the global scene because of these politics. The impact that this lack of political action on the part of the governmental elite has had can be seen and felt still today.

We are living in a moment in which we need cinema to help us understand what Brazil is today. If we can or if we desire to take down the statues which retain the values of our colonial times, we must be able to know what they represent. Film is a good way to know, to understand, and to perceive that some statues have been around for 100 years. These statues were raised at the beginning of the 20th century, a time in which Brazil was another place and had a different society. What has changed since then?

Films from those periods help give a voice to the anonymous people that have not had their voices heard, and in the event that these people cannot be found in the films, we begin to understand why that is. I think we need to have this debate and film is a good way to hold a debate about our heritage because it has lived with us for over a century.

*This interview has been edited for clarification.

Abolição | 1988

IMAGE BY luiz paulo lima
Written by
Translated by

Abolição | 1988

PT /
ENG
IMAGE BY luiz paulo lima
Written by
Translated by

Abolição | 1988

PT /
ENG
PT /
ENG
IMAGE BY luiz paulo lima
Written by
Translated by
Abolition – A Brief Introduction to the Film
1988 marked the 100th anniversary of the Lei Áurea in Brazil, the legislation that officially emancipated slaves throughout the country. This anniversary sparked conversations about the historical significance of the Lei Áurea, and provoked new criticisms about how far Brazil had come in its treatment of Black people since that historical decree. It was in light of this renewed interest in the Lei Áurea that actor/filmmaker/activist Zózimo Bulbul debuted Abolição (Abolition), his first and only feature film as a director and the product of more than ten years of thorough research. Bulbul intended to use this anniversary as an opportunity to critically reflect on the conditions of Black Brazilians after the emancipation and to demonstrate that the abolition in fact had been a farcical scam. Notwithstanding that there were other films1 produced at that time which covered the Lei Áurea and racism in Brazil, Bulbul’s film explored these topics in a particularly unique way - it was the first Brazilian film shot by a nearly all-Black crew to portray the reflections of Black Brazilians on their own post-abolition condition.

One of the major aspects which made Bulbul’s filmmaking process stand-out from the other works that explored the conditions of Black people in Brazil is the breadth of locations which the film covers. The crew of Abolition traveled with their camera through sites and cities that remain crucial to the development of Afro-Brazilian culture. These included Bahia and Pernambuco (Northeast), Manaus (North), Rio Grande do Sul (Deep South), and São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (Southeast). Another of Abolition’s achievements is the way that Bulbul managed to shed light on a diverse array of situations in which Black people were living. For example, the crew captured interviews with key icons from the Afro-Brazilian community, such as Abdias do Nascimento, Lélia Gonzalez, Carlos Medeiros, Beatriz Nascimento, Grande Otelo, Joel Rufino dos Santos and Benedita da Silva. In the film, these interviews are occasionally shown on-screen sharing perspectives informed by their own Blackness, but in other moments, voices from the interviews materialize as the camera shifts its attention to Black bodies that are, despite being part of our social urban fabric, perpetually rendered invisible throughout our history: workers, the homeless population, the impoverished living in the slums, the street artists and so on.
Why Abolition?
I’ve been involved with the work of recuperating Abolition’s historical materials on a daily basis since I began the graduate studies program in Communications at Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro two years ago, and I recently concluded the program with a master’s dissertation on the film. As I began conducting research for my dissertation, I encountered a scarcity of information on Bulbul’s lone feature film. There are only a few academic works that cover the cineaste’s life—all of which barely discuss Abolition—and I had not come across any work that provides it with a thorough analysis. This makes clear that despite receiving awards at Brazilian film festivals, as well as overseas,2 the documentary went on to make only a minor impact on the world of film academia. Noel dos Santos Carvalho, a film teacher and researcher from Universidade de Campinas (UNICAMP), attests to how the film was met with indifference: “With its 150 minute duration, Abolition did not find approval with the audience. Not even among Black people. The conversation around it was limited to a small circle of intellectuals and Black activists”.3 Carvalho’s testimony poses several questions: Why was Abolition seen by so few people? Why was its impact so minimal? What is the film’s legacy among today’s Black researchers?

Aside from investigating these questions, this article will bring together some of the memories and recollections from the Abolition film crew that I gathered while interviewing them for my master’s thesis. These memories and recollections are vital towards gaining an updated understanding of the film today, as it is important to appreciate that Abolition was the universal effort of many forces of Black creativity. In the eyes of researcher Heitor Augusto (2018), investigating the creation of Abolition allows us to comprehend the nuances of a film that was conceived and executed by Black creators during a moment when new ideas, projects, and perspectives, both in Black Brazilian cinema and intellectual thought at large were emerging. The core crew members of Abolition were/are trailblazers in that they executed roles that were unprecedented for Black professionals. However, perhaps even more importantly, they reclaimed the legitimacy of their enunciative position and their right to tell their own stories. From behind the camera (or even because of it) this crew contributed to the theorization and structuring of Black cinema, a field that was practically nonexistent in Brazil at that time.
In conversation with the film crew
On January 28, 2020, on a hot Rio de Janeiro afternoon, I first encountered Vantoen Pereira Jr. Pereira Jr. played a decisive role as a facilitator on Abolition’s production, and he still works to promote the film and fights to preserve its memories. In my conversation with Pereira Jr., he started off by bringing me back to the origin of Abolition, towards the earliest days when Bulbul first began developing the project.

According to Pereira Jr., Abolition began to take shape around 1977 on an immersive trip that he and Bulbul took to Búzios, a city located in Rio de Janeiro’s lake areas. He recounts that Bulbul, who had just returned from a self-imposed exile4, rented a house at Rasa beach and immediately began writing. Bulbul set out to incorporate some of the social, historical, and aesthetic investigations to be found within his previous films Alma no Olho (Soul in the Eye, 1973) and Dia de Alforria (Emancipation Day, 1981). In addition, Bulbul had gathered new ideas and information throughout his journey through Africa, Europe and the United States, and he was eager to incorporate this into a new project. While working in Búzios, Bulbul used a typewriter to register his memories and recollections from this journey.

Then, in 1986, after nearly a decade of research during which he was working towards a final draft of the screenplay, Bulbul put together the crew that would bring Abolition to life. From the very beginning, Bulbul expressed his predilection for having an all-Black crew since he believed that only professionals from the Black community would be able to bring the specific perspectives needed to make the film. However, though the race criteria was important to Bulbul, it was not the determining factor as to who would get hired to work on Abolition. While I will touch on this point further on, I find it imperative to now introduce eight crew members from Aboliton and explain the important role they played in its production. But before delving into these testimonies, I must stress the importance of analyzing Abolition through the point of view of the professionals whose jobs aren’t typically perceived with the same level of prestige enjoyed by screenwriters and directors (both roles personified by Bulbul in the case of Abolition). The conception and the construction of a work of cinema such as Abolition is necessarily based on the input of a collective, and by bringing to light the voices and experiences of the crew members on this predominantly Black film set, we are able to delve deeper into the film, following the tracks left by their accounts and collective memories. We can then begin to comprehend how the need for collectivity, or “aquilombamento”5 stems from the desire to forge a space where people can show each other affection, actively listen to one another, forge new connections, and discover identities.
Deusa Dineris

The first crew member that I would like to highlight was the only Black woman to be a part of the making of Abolition, Deusa Dineris. Dineris was one of the film’s most important contributors and she was invited to join the project in 1986, right before shooting started. At the time, she had been working as an advertising executive for the advertising company Momento Filmes.6 During the film’s funding stage, the producers identified the need to create a co-production in order to compete for a grant from Embrafilme, and therefore Momento Filmes acted as the co-producer. Through this co-production, Dineris got involved with the film; but she explains that her involvement only happened by chance, since she wasn’t working in cinema at that time.

Dineris and Bulbul’s first encounter took place at Momento’s headquarters. She knew very little about Abolition, only that the crew was made of eleven men and one Black woman, Anya Sartor, who was expected to work as the continuity supervisor despite having a previous career in acting. Just before shooting began, Sartor had to withdraw from the project for personal reasons. This left a major gap within the production crew, and there was now the challenge to find another Black woman who could fill in for Sartor. Bulbul believed it was necessary to have a racialized feminine perspective as part of the crew and to the surprise of Dineris, Bulbul and owner of Momento Filmes (Jerônimo César) decided to invite her to fill the position vacated by Sartos. Although Dineris initially showed reluctance in accepting this offer due to her lack of experience in the film industry, in the end, Bulbul managed to convince her to work on the film.
Dineris on the the set
Image From the collection of Deusa Dineris

In our interview, Dineris recollected that being the only Black woman on the crew was not a challenge for her, as she had three prior experiences working for publicity agencies where there were no other racialized women on staff. However, the real challenge for her was accepting a job that she had no previous experience in. By working on the documentary, she likely became the first Black woman to serve as a continuity supervisor on a Brazilian film. The fact that it took so long for a female to fill this role may come as a shock to many. But it is important to keep in mind that it was only in 1984 — 4 years before Abolition — that the first feature length film directed by a Black Brazilian woman hit the theaters. This was Adélia Sampaio’s Amor Maldito (Cursed Love).
In a film industry dominated by white men, the presence of Dineris was of fundamental importance to Abolition. Throughout the interviews I conducted with the film’s eight crew members, each emphasized that the presence of Dineris on the predominantly male film set allowed the film to be less oriented towards the male-gaze. However, during the production of Abolition, there remained the all too common gender-oriented working dynamic that privileged men. Dineris recounts that because the crew was so small, she accumulated new tasks beyond her initial role as the continuity supervisor, becoming actively engaged as assistant director and producer. “While the crew would go to the bar after the shooting, I’d stay indoors working and getting everything ready for the next morning”, she recalls. Such unbalanced divisions of labor reveal that there was still gender stereotyping throughout the making of Abolition.

Despite these obstacles, Dineris reveals that being part of the film had a direct influence on the growth of her own budding racial identity. It is no coincidence that, after working on the documentary, Dineris decided to quit the advertising business and become engaged with the Black struggle, eventually launching an event-production company7 solely dedicated to promoting Black artists.
Deusa Dineris during the shooting of Abolition at the Pelourinho square in Salvador, Bahia
Image From the collection of Deusa Dineris
Dineris has preserved both her personal memories and memorabilia from the period of making Abolition. On the day of our interview, she brought pictures, a book autographed to her by the journalist Edmar Morel (who is featured in the film), and a publicity folder produced for the release of the movie. She passed that folder onto me as a gift, remarking on the importance of sharing it with future generations in order to show the ways in which Brazilian films were advertised during the pre-Internet era.

My conversation with Dineris and the act of investigating her role in the film was one of the most thought-provoking parts of my research, and her narrative is crucial towards understanding what working dynamics were like on the film set of Abolition. A Black cinema — that is, a cinema made by Black creators — must be mindful of intersectionality. In its efforts toward building a nearly all-Black crew, Abolition contributed to larger efforts of inserting Black professionals in the film industry, all the while reproducing gender stereotypes and sexist microaggressions in its division of labor.
Vantoen Pereira Jr.
Vantoen Pereira Jr. and Zózimo Bulbull
Coming from a career in photography, Vantoen Pereira Jr. joined the crew of Abolition with former experiences in the arts. But it was through Bulbul, who was like an uncle and godfather, that he first began to learn about cinema. Since Bulbul never had children, he and Pereira Jr. were able to forge something like a father-son relationship. I would like to stress that this close relationship, as well as Pereira Jr.’s previous experience as a still photographer for well-regarded directors such as Nelson Pereira dos Santos, José Medeiros and Roberto Farias, helped create a familial atmosphere on the set of Abolition.

The official role that Periera Jr. had on Abolition was assistant cinematographer alongside DP Miguel Rio Branco, but his involvement in making the film went beyond that—he witnessed and contributed to early research in Búzios, and he read over Bulbul’s initial screenplay drafts. Bulbul also had a profound influence on Periera Jr., as he was able to develop his photographer’s eye while working on the set of Abolition. Bulbul changed my "understandings around image-making, visual poetics and working practices”, Pereira Jr. said. During our conversation, Pereira Jr. walked me through each step of Abolition’s filmmaking process. He made sure to reiterate that Abolition is a very meaningful film, and insisted that we can glean much more from it than what was initially grasped during the time of its release.According to him, it was a film for the future, to be explored by generations to come.

Pereira Jr. is not merely a source for valuable archival material related to the film (as he has preserved photographs and documents from the film sets), but he also serves as a precious carrier of memories related to Abolition’s production previously known only to him. Of these memories, Pereira Jr. recollects that Bulbul often stressed the “importance of family” throughout the filmmaking process; according to him, Bulbul emphasized this idea because he believed that it was an important force in providing a reconnection and reconstruction for Black families who were torn apart as a result of centuries of slavery. Pereira Jr. also discussed how community building and the power of encounter were key ideas that influenced Bulbul throughout his career, even claiming that one of Bulbul’s intentions with Abolition was to explain why thousands of Black families were separated and decimated since the Lei Áurea.

Pereira Jr. was instrumental to both Abolition and to my research. In our conversations he shared fresh information and diligently helped me contact the rest of the crew. As I look back at those moments when I held my interview with seven of the crew members, sharing the same space for the first time in years, I realize how important it was to have them all together in a friendly environment.
Severino Dadá

Severino Dadá worked as the editor for Bulbul’s second film, the documentary Aniceto do Império em dia de Alforria? (1981). In our conversation, Dadá recalled that he was first to be formally invited by Bulbul—with whom he had been friends since the 1970s—to work on Abolition. The two shared thoughts throughout the entire pre-production process, from providing input on the screenplay to helping Bulbul choose the interviewees. Every member of the crew who worked on Abolition is reverent towards Dadá, who is famous for his encyclopedic knowledge, and recognized for his fundamental contributions to Brazilian cinema. Dadá is one of the most active film editors within the history of Brazilian Cinema, his credits amounting to more than 300 films. His fondness for Bulbul was visible when he spoke about Abolition, as he emotionally recalled the intimate friendship which he had with the filmmaker that contributed to this crucial chapter in Brazilian cinema history.

Before working on Abolition, Dadá had already enjoyed a prolific career as an editor, having worked with prominent Brazilian directors such as NelsonPereira dos Santos and Rogério Sganzerla. A native of Pedra, a small city located in the backcountry of Pernambuco state in the Northeastern Coast of Brazil, Dadá began his career as a radio announcer. However, he soon migrated to cinema once he joined the independent film club circuit. His life-trajectory soon intersected with Brazil’s immediate political history as he was incarcerated and tortured by the military during Brazil’s military dictatorship8. Both Dadá’s background as a native of Pernambuco and his political activism were vital to the ways in which he contributed to Abolition. Also, as one of the few white crew members, his political convictions and perspectives as a nordestino9 offered a fresh perspective to the film.

One of the many stories Dadá told me recounts the day that Bulbul was informed of Embrafilme’s decision to fund Abolition. The director invited the editor to São João Batista Cemetery in Botafogo on the South Side of Rio de Janeiro, in order to deliver an ebó, which is a type of offering that is part of the tradition of various Afro-Brazilian religions. The ebó was being delivered by Bulbul to express his thankfulness for receiving the awarded grant that would make the production of the film possible. As they entered the cemetery, a police car that was circling in the vicinity approached them. One of the officers stepped out the vehicle, and he recognized both Dadá and Bulbul. That officer was Paulo Copacabana, who had worked as an actor in some films, including Roberto Farias’s O Assalto ao Trem Pagador (Assault on the Pay Train, 1962) and J.B. Tanko’s Bom Mesmo é Carnaval (Carnival is Truly Good, 1962). As he questioned them for their reasons of being in front of the cemetery late at night, Dadá and Bulbul explained they were about to execute a thanking ritual. Copacabana then proceeded to put them both inside the police vehicle and drove them to a nearby bar in order to celebrate the film grant; they all sat together—Dadá, Bulbul, Copacabana and another cop, who eventually paid the bill.

Another less humorous anecdote recounted by Dadá involved Pelé, elected in 1980 as the Athlete of the Century by the French paper L’Equipe. As an international superstar and the Black symbol of soccer at the time, Pelé was invited to be interviewed and share his thoughts on racism in sports. Pelé declined the invitation, explaining that he believed racism did not exist in Brazil. Disappointed with his stance, Bulbul and Dadá were forced to look for another figure to be interviewed in the film, someone who had a more critical perspective on racial issues in sports, especially in soccer. They ultimately invited Paulo Cézar Caju, who was known throughout his career as a lone critical voice of racism in soccer. Caju promptly accepted being interviewed for the documentary, where he devoted harsh criticisms towards Pelé due to his lack of engagement in the Black struggle. The response to this was immediate: Pelé’s lawyer contacted Bulbul to communicate the athlete's wishes to have the interview removed from the film, as it tarnished his image. Despite such extreme pressure, Caju’s opinions remained in the final cut.

This situation illuminates the difficulties one faces when trying to begin a conversation about racism in Brazil. What Bulbul encountered with Pelé is a common situation in Brazil: eitherBlack figures refuse to acknowledge structural racism or they give the packaged, standardized answer that, despite the existence of prejudice in society, they themselves were never the target of it. I’m left to wonder how painful it must have been forBulbul to hear from Brazil’s most important athlete that racism is a fiction by which he was never hurt. The episode serves as a clear testament to the obstacles that the film had to overcome in providing a more truthful representation of Black life in Brazil.
Alexandre Tadeu, Edson Alves, and Biza Vianna

Alexandre Tadeu, a film electrician, met Vantoen Pereira Jr. when they worked together on Roberto Farias’s Pra Frente Brasil (1982) and they quickly became friends. Soon thereafter, Tadeu met and became friends with Bulbul, as they both frequently attended the bars and night life of Lapa, a historic neighborhood in downtown Rio de Janeiro. Their favorite place to meet became “Tangará”, a tavern where they would exchange new ideas about cinema. Tadeu recalls that they never directly talked about Abolition during those encounters and that he only became familiar with the project when editor Severino Dadá took Bulbul to the offices of Memento Filmes. As a staff member of Memento Filmes, Tadeu naturally became involved with the production of Abolition, offering the crew support with company rental equipment. Tadeu also remembers that during post-production, he would accompany Dadá and Bulbul in the cutting room, and after a long shift of work they would head to São Salvador square, in Laranjeiras, to discuss all of the editing choices of the day.

Edson Alves, aka “Edinho”, was a professional lighting technician and electrician who had a brief stint working on the set of Abolition for ten days. His work can be prominently seen in the fictional sequences in early half of the film.10 However, despite the fact that Ediho only worked on the set for a short period, his presence was very important to Deusa Dineris, who recounted in our interview that she learned many of the ins and outs of a film set from Edinho. I would like to emphasize this relationship between Edson and Dineris it reflects the importance of aquilombamento on the making of Abolition. It was made evident throughout the interviews I conducted that the sense of shared identity and communion that Abolition’s production offered the crew was a respite from the previous experiences that they had in white-dominated working environments which precluded this form of collectivity.

Bulbul’s widow, Biza Vianna, shared with me that the couple were forced to break the agreement they had made to never work together, especially on film shoots. She joined the project at the last minute because it urgently needed a costume designer for the aforementioned fictional sequence in which Princess Isabel reads the proclamation of emancipation. Vianna had a career working in fashion and theater, so she joined the crew and was responsible for both the costume of the fictional characters and the clothing of the crew members who would eventually be shown on-screen in key sequences. Vianna used Zapatistas Army of National Liberation as an inspiration for dressing the crew as a way to suggest an image of a Latin-American resistance. She considers her role on the film to have been small, but other members of the team such as Pereira Jr. and Flávio Leandro think otherwise, stressing the importance of Vianna as both a professional and Bulbul’s partner, whose legacy she oversees today.
Alexandre Tadeu, Fernando Spencer, Severino Dadá e Zózimo Bulbul, during the film editing
Miguel Rio Branco

Lastly, it is paramount to explore the role of cinematographer Miguel Rio Branco, the only white man on the Abolition shooting crew. Prior to joining the production, his work as a photographer had shown a predilection for popular culture, as can be seen in the series Maciel (1979). Maciel documents the precarious conditions in the oldest areas of Pelourinho, a historic neighborhood in Salvador, Bahia. Years later, Rio Branco directed Nada levarei quando morrer, Aqueles que mim deve cobrarei no inferno  (1985), a key short film in his career.11 By the time he worked on Bulbul’s documentary he already was a nationally and internationally acclaimed artist, especially praised for his photography. In August of 2019 I travelled to Araras, a city on the mountains of Rio de Janeiro, to interview Rio Branco and record his memories from working on Abolition. Rio Branco did not maintain close contact with Bulbul and the rest of the crew after shooting completed, and therefore his thoughts on the final version of the film are enigmatic. According to Biza Vianna, Rio Branco distanced himself from the documentary upon its completion, “never [making] any effort to learn about the film”.

Although Bulbul had wanted to assemble an all-Black crew, he faced challenges when it came to choosing a DP, since, according to Dadá and Flavio Leandro, there were very few Black cinematographers in Brazil. Bulbul believed that Rio Branco’s vast oeuvre12 of photographing Black bodies would provide him with the necessary experience to shoot Abolition. When I brought this up to Rio Branco during our conversation, he disagreed that this was the reason that had led Bulbul to choose him as DP. According to him, “As long as you have the ability to gaze and possess technical knowledge, you can photograph any type of body, black or white”. I believe that this statement deserves further scrutiny.

Rio Branco’s understanding is opposite to that of Eustáquio Neves, another well-regarded Brazilian photographer who has discussed his struggles during the 1980s to find the right camera equipment appropriate for capturing different shades of dark skin. Neves became known for having developed alternative and multidisciplinary techniques to manipulate film negatives and positives to suit this purpose. According to Neves:
Lighting standards weren’t developed having darker skins in mind, but rather to the Caucasians’. It used to be very difficult to photograph a Black woman in a white wedding dress. One ended up having to lighten the skin instead of portraying the color as it was originally. I used to believe that I didn’t know how to photograph, until I realized the issue wasn’t me, but the standards.13
Neves’s statement reveals that it wasn’t just a matter of having a pure ability to take good photographs, since properly photographing Black bodies involved overcoming different technological factors and social norms that were created by the photographic industry and which went unchallenged for many years. As Abolition would be a film that mostly rendered Black bodies, the aesthetic choices behind the film’s cinematography was a matter taken into serious consideration by Bulbul. Not only was Bulbul forced to reckon with the technical limitations of producing an authentic image of Black bodies, but he also had to consider the cinematographer’s subjective gaze. It was therefore necessary to count on a DP who could be sensitive to these issues. Despite his declared indifference to the systemic prejudices of technical cinematography at the time, Rio Branco’s success with Maciel led Bulbul to believe that the photographer could deliver an image similar to what he had in mind. Despite the disparate choice, the partnership between Bulbul and Rio Branco yielded beautiful results, as the film went on to win the Best Cinematography award at the Festival de Brasília. Rio Branco revealed that he was surprised to receive this award, since he believed that the film’s strengths were its research and screenplay, particularly the unprecedented coverage of the emancipation of slavery by Black creators.

There was also a disagreement between Bulbul and Rio Branco over Bulbul’s decision to pre-conceive the form in which the film would take, as this implied that there would be very little room for debate and experimentation in the film's mode of visuality. Of course, this “preconceived form” was in fact a reflection of Bulbul’s clarity of vision for Abolition. The film was the very definition of a passion project for Bulbul, who therefore knew how he wanted the film to look and what form of construction it should take. For a white cinematographer such as Rio Branco who was used to having greater autonomy in the decision-making process on the set of a film, being relegated to the role of an observer felt like a disappointment. The friction between Rio Branco and Bulbul, of which remnants can still be felt today, reveals the social hierarchy of race within working relationships, and how it was and still is difficult for white people to take directions from Black professionals.

In fact, as a white man, Rio Branco was amazed that he was even invited to work on Abolition.14 During our conversation he expressed that: “In the United States they would never cast me as the DP of a film like this, and my presence in it shows that we Brazilians enjoy the possibility of a bigger interracial relationship than other countries”. However, when we look at the history of racial disparities within the Brazilian film industry, they reveal that Brazilian cinema has always been a predominantly white industry. A thorough examination of the Brazilian film industry sponsored in 2017 by GEMAA (Study Group for Affirmative Action)15 revealed a severely segregated landscape throughout the history of Brazilian cinema. GEMAA’s study looked at the highest grossing Brazilian films between 1970 and 2016. Their findings revealed that gender and racial inequality have always been the norm within the Brazilian film industry. The study claims:
Between 1970 and 2016, the highest grossing films (works seen by more than 500 thousand people) were predominantly directed by white men (98%). We couldn’t identify a single director who was a person of color, though we must state that 13% of the titles couldn’t be analyzed due to lack of data. When it comes to gender, we noticed a very low number of women working as directors: only 2%. And none of them were Black.16
When analyzing the screenwriters of those titles, “only 8% were women and the only Black woman we could identify in the sample was Julciléa Telles, who was the co-writer of the sex comedy A Gostosa da Gafieira”.17 Despite the fact that GEMAA’s study only took into consideration feature-length fiction films, I believe the landscape wouldn’t be much different had other modes or formats of filmmaking been considered.

There is one final element related to Bulbul hiring Rio Branco that is important to note. In my conversations with the film crew, they revealed that Bulbul saw this hiring as a strategic decision: by inviting in a member of the Brazilian elite,18 Bulbul was inverting the common social hierarchy in which white men had all of the decision-making power on a film set. When we consider the hiring from this perspective, we see the irony in Bulbul’s choice. It’s surely no accident that Rio Branco is the only crew member that is never featured on-screen throughout the film. This indicates that the self-reflexivity of Abolition was not intended to include the position of its own DP.

In concluding my analyses of the roles that each crew member had on Abolition, I would like to highlight one last component related to the personal dynamics of the crew. Throughout the interviews I conducted, each crew member mentioned the importance of “tavern talk”, an expression of Bulbul’s that was meant to be applied and understood as an ethical value. Cultivating a bohemian lifestyle was seen by Bulbul as an important ritual that one must always engage in, and even include it within work processes. Upon listening to the crew’s memories of working on the film, I soon realized that many decisions that went into the construction of the film were made during encounters at bars and taverns. It is worth noting here that the word “bohemia”, beyond its connotations of pleasure and entertainment, also connotes a social-cultural practice that takes into account lived experiences from different subjectivities. There are political implications to be gleaned when considering that a nearly all-Black crew was circulating and, to a certain extent, occupying areas of Rio de Janeiro, a city that still to this day disguises its hostility towards Black bodies. Congregating within these spaces and sharing discussions among one another certainly played a significant role in the film’s construction and in the way that the crew bonded throughout the filmmaking process.
The Commercial Distribution and Further Legacy of Abolition
Abolition was finished in 1988 after extensive periods of research, production, and post-production. Bulbul’s expectations for the film were high, as he had just completed a work of unprecedented depth that was to be released in the same year that marked the centennial of the Lei Áurea, one of the most important moments for Brazilian Black activism in the 20th century. This was a period of intense conversations and debates around many topics involving racial issues, and the representation of Black people in film and television was among the most discussed. Bulbul’s goal was to make a major contribution to that conversation.

Everyone involved with the film hoped Abolition would spark a meaningful and broad conversation around these issues, and they all hoped that the film would be released in the commercial circuit and screened at various film festivals. One of the reasons that the crew hoped the film would achieve this success is summarized by researcher Noel dos Santos Carvalho, as he claims the documentary “objectively manifests the political stances taken by Black activism since the 1970s”.19 Bulbul believed Abolition would also serve as a counternarrative to other contemporary productions around the centennial celebration of the emancipation. Bulbul made sure to detach himself from any production that he believed posed an opposition to his political values, which, according to Carvalho, led him to refuse taking part in a special production by Rede Globo, Brazil’s biggest communications conglomerate, that would celebrate the anniversary. He claimed, “There were artists and Black activists who pressed me to be there. But I don’t work for free for [Globo’s founder] Roberto Marinho. And besides, I found their show a demagogic piece”.20

Bulbul was completely engaged in securing a commercial run for his film, and his widow Biza Vianna recalls how releasing the documentary became one of the biggest frustrations of his life. Abolition did not resonate with the public nearly to the extent he had hoped for. When I asked the crew and Vianna about why the film was received so poorly, they all referred to a boycott coming from certain players and intelligentsia within Brazil’s film circles, and within Embrafilme, the state-owned company responsible for distributing the documentary.
    
The topic of Brazilian commercial film distribution was analyzed by researcher Patrícia Selonk, who highlighted the role played by Embrafilme as the main sponsor of our films since the company’s conception in 1969 until its implosion in 1990. According to Selonk, Embrafilme provided a certain level of infrastructure and helped forge a new public interest in Brazilian cinema despite the fact that the market was dominated by foreign studios. However, Embrafilme’s practices were also met with criticism from filmmakers who made the accusation that they prioritized certain films while delaying the commercial release of others:
Júlio Bressane and Rogério Sganzerla were critical of Embrafilme for its close ties with specific producers, such as Luis Carlos Barreto. The company’s chief of distribution, Marco Aurélio Marcondes, would justify his practices on the basis that these filmmakers’ works were underground, therefore wouldn’t be the recipient of a major financial injection by any distributor.21
Although the fundamental role of Embrafilme was to sponsor new works of Brazilian cinema, they often made insufficient efforts to distribute the films that they had funded to make. When analyzing Abolition’s commercial run – or lack thereof – the mindset of those at the head of Embrafilme becomes evident. The crew members I’ve interviewed assert that the documentary was never officially released, and its distribution was limited to screenings at film festivals in 1988, among which were the Festival de Brasília and the Cine Rio Festival.22 During the latter festival, Vianna recollects that the film was not programmed as part of the main section, in which films were projected within an actual film theater. On the contrary, Abolition was only programmed in a sidebar of outdoor screenings. Similarly, the first showing of Abolition was at an outdoor screening in Bulbul’s hometown, the affluent neighborhood of Ipanema. The screening took place at Nossa Senhora da Paz square and was packed with many viewers and guests. One of them, according to Vantoen Pereira Jr., was a young Spike Lee, who was in Brazil promoting his second feature, She’s Gotta Have It.

Edinho Alves and Alexandre Tadeu explain that the film crew ended up taking the task of distributing the documentary into their own hands. They improvised a communications strategy, which included spreading posters around the city and booking screenings outside of Rio de Janeiro. Regardless of their initial success in attracting a large crowd to the film’s premiere, Abolition would go on to barely make an impact on the national film market, never enjoying an official commercial run.

Beyond Embrafilme’s active disengagement from helping to distribute Abolition, another factor that contributed to the film’s poor reception is its duration. The current cut of Abolition is two hours and thirty minutes long, and according to Flávio Leandro, this negatively influenced the audience’s ability to embrace the work. The length of the film proved to become a point of contention between Bulbul and his crew. The first cut was over four hours long, and it required a strenuous effort on the part of the film crew to convince him to acquiesce to a shorter version.

Therefore, without adequate institutional support or the financial means to distribute Abolition independently, the documentary was only shown overseas years after its completion:
Abolition was awarded at Festival de Brasília ’88 and it also won something in Cuba and while I was at a film festival there, I was invited to show the film in New York. I was also awarded there, but in my country not even a line was written on the papers on the film and on the awards. I came back to Brazil profoundly sad with the international recognition the film enjoyed, while here nothing happened, neither with the film, nor with me. I expected to be known, to show the film, I wanted to be out there talking about it, discussing both Brazilian film history and the topics touched by my documentary, but in the end it felt like “shut up, nigger, there’s no racism in Brazil! You’re making these things up!” That brought a great deal of frustration.22
The lack of acknowledgement and financial support for Black filmmakers, even those with proven abilities such as Bulbul, caused the cineaste to take a long hiatus as a director. Only in 2001, when he received a grant from Rio de Janeiro’s state production fund dedicated to short films, did he produce and direct another film, the documentary Pequena África (2001).23 In the same year he also finished Samba no trem (2001).24 Despite not working as a director between 1988 and the early 2000s, Bulbul’s life was filled with remarkable experiences. He would go on to cement his important legacy with the creation of the Centro Afro-Carioca de Cinema (Afro-Carioca Center for Cinema). The frustrations that Bulbul experienced throughout the release of Abolition drove him to take a personal journey that resulted in the idea to create a space where he could show his films as well those of other Black filmmakers.

In 1997, when he had the opportunity to travel to Burkina Faso to participate in the 15th Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou,25 he realized how much his work was recognized and appreciated.
(...) They gave me warm reception. From the airport to the hotel and throughout the duration of the festival, I was respected as a Black Brazilian, as a filmmaker and as a guest. When I saw all those people at the opening ceremony, more than 20 thousand people gathered at a track field, it moved me. The difference between “FESPACO” and other film festivals around the world is that over there regular people from Burkina and the neighboring countries engage with the event, while “Cannes” or even “Festival do Rio” are held to the elite, not to the people. 26
Experiences such as those at FESPACO helped to forge Bulbul’s conviction that a new landscape for Brazilian cinema needed to be established. It wasn’t enough to just make films, there was also an urgency to create a circuit for the screening of Black-directed films. As Abolition’s distribution saga illustrates, Black creators faced a double impediment: even when they were able to overcome the difficulties in completing their films, they still had to fight a distribution and exhibition system that was specifically designed to exclude them from theater screens.
Team photo with Edmar Morel
Final considerations
In conclusion, I wish to share with you my individual trajectory throughout the course of conducting research for my Master’s thesis. I consider myself a member of a generation of Black youth that have been promoting long-silenced conversations and reclaiming the memories of those who have paved the way for us to finally occupy spaces to which we have been historically denied. The very possibility of being able to conduct my research was the result of those who have paved the way before me. In my eyes this is the true legacy of Abolition: providing greater esteem for Black culture, giving it the regard and study it deserves, and scrutinizing history for the purposes of making intellectual contributions to society at large. As an art form, cinema is a tool that has the power to affect, to move and to create new ways of seeing and understanding. To be able to watch and identify myself in a documentary made 32 years ago illustrates how cinema can be timeless.

This change was made possible by the social policies implemented throughout Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s and Dilma Rousseff’s administrations, as they pushed for programs aiming to fight for equal access to education. The implementation of race-based affirmative actions and the establishment of programs such as Universidade Para Todos (PROUNI, University for All,)27 provided an important aid that allowed a younger Black and unprivileged generation to go to college, graduate and find better opportunities within the job market. My own trajectory intersects with these policies: as a recipient of a scholarship from PROUNI, I managed to finish college and subsequently enroll in an advanced studies program. At that program, I was inspired to conduct the research from which this article stems.

It’s also important to highlight the expansion of broadband internet throughout new territories in Brazil, as well as the arrival of cheaper technological devices that enabled the rising of new voices from underprivileged areas of Brazilian society. These voices are now creating radical works of art that continue to push forward the conversations kept alive by Bulbul and others. I would also like to take the opportunity to acknowledge that I was only able to start my research on Abolition due to an unofficial, sole hyperlink that is available on a Facebook page devoted to the film (@AbolicaoZozimoBulbul). In the early stages of my research, before I was provided with an official link to the film, that page allowed me to re-watch the documentary multiple times, thus structuring the analysis I’ve developed during my master’s thesis. That same hyperlink, and , and the video available on Limite, makes it possible for Abolition to be seen by a wider range of people.  Bulbul’s accomplishment is a work that must be revisited today so that we can finally acknowledge it as an important and unique historical documentation of our country and a pioneering work of Black cinema throughout the world.

1. For example, Eduardo Coutinho’s documentary Fio da Memória (1988) and Abolição, a miniseries written by Wilson Aguiar Filho for TV Globo.

2. Best Historical Research and Best Cinematography at the 21st Festival de Brasília do Cinema Brasileiro in 1988; Best Documentary at the New York Latino Film Festival in 1989; and Best Poster at the 11th Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano, in 1989, Havana, Cuba.

3. Noel dos Santos Carvalho,. “O Produtor e o cineasta Zózimo Bulbul – o inventor do CinemaNegro Brasileiro”. Revista Crioula, São Paulo, n. 12, nov. 2012,p. 18.

4. In 1974, Bulbul attempted to obtain permission from Brazil’s censorship bureau that would allow him to screen his latest film, “Alma no Olho”. However, he was called upon by the military to be interrogated. “They were suspicious about the film and its authorship, so they requested Bulbul to decode the images, since they thought there was some implicit subversive leftist message. After this event, which lasted for days, feeling psychologically pressured by the general political atmosphere, and fearful of the repressive state forces that were then persecuting artists, he traveled to New York intending to remain away from Brazil for a while.” (CARVALHO, 2012, p. 14)

5. The “quilombos” (“maroon communities”) were constituted, according toBeatriz Nascimento, as spaces for resistance, for political organization and for reframing cultural and social values for Black people and their descendants. “Aquilombar”, which in English could be interpreted as “gathering ourselves as a quilombo”, is a political and epistemological notion that hase merged specifically out of the cultural-historical Afro-Brazilian process. SeeAnother Gaze’s discussion of the concept here.

6. Momento Filmes is a production company located at Laranjeiras, a neighborhood at the South Side of Rio de Janeiro. The business operations of Momento Filmes were mostly focused towards advertisements, but they also partnered in the production of several short films and some feature films, particularly from independent filmmakers. Additionally, Momento Filmes rented out film equipment.

7. Among the events produced by her company, Dineris emphasizes a party called “100% afrobrasileiro” (“100% Afro-Brazilian”), which was dedicated to promoting Black artists who weren’t part of the mainstream Rio de Janeiro cultural circuit.

8. Brazil was being ruled under a military dictatorship between 1964 -1985  

9. Besides serving as a geographical marker, “Nordestino” also represents a specific cultural and sociali dentity that relates to characteristics specific to the Northeast side ofBrazil. Abolition documents some of the cultural expressions of the “nordestino” identity, such as the “Teatro de Mamulengo and the “Emboladoresde Recife”.

10. These fictional scenes took place at the house of the Marquess of Santos in São Cristóvão neighborhood, located on the North Side of Rio deJaneiro.

11. This film belongs to the Inhotim Museum’s collection in the state Minas Gerais.

12. Miguel Rio Branco is a photographer who documented areas marked by violence, degradation and neglection by the state. The majority of the population in these areas, due to reasons made explicit by this article, were Black.

13. Velasco, 2016, n.p

14. Rio Branco was with the crew members for the majority of the shooting, but had to withdraw from the film when they were shooting the scenes at the Palace of the Marquess of Santos, due to health complications related to hepatitis that was aggravated by his heavy alcohol consumption during the filming.  

15. The full report can be read at: http://gemaa.iesp.uerj.br/boletins/boletim-gemaa-2-raca-e-genero-no-cinema-brasileiro-1970-2016/ (only in Portuguese)  

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Miguel Rio Branco is the great-grandson of the Baron of Rio Branco and the great-great-grandson of the Viscount of Rio Branco, besides being the son of a diplomat.

19. Noel dos Santos Carvalho,. “O Produtor e o cineasta Zózimo Bulbul – o inventor do Cinema Negro Brasileiro”. Revista Crioula, São Paulo, n. 12, nov. 2012, p. 17.

20. Ibid 19.

21. Selonk, 2004, p. 98

22. The Rio Cine Festival was launched in 1984. After a fusion with the Mostra Banco Nacional de Cinema, it became, in1999, the Festival do Rio, as it’s known today.

23. Bulbul, 2007 apud DE; Vianna, 2014

24. Noeldos Santos Carvalho,. “O Produtor e o cineasta Zózimo Bulbul – o inventor do Cinema Negro Brasileiro”. Revista Crioula, São Paulo, n. 12, nov. 2012, p. 19.

25. The Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou is the largest African film festival. It’s a biennial event held at Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital, where the headquarters are located.

26. Bulbul, 2007 apud, DE; Vianna, 2014

27. Established by the Law nº 11.096, officialized in January 13, 2005, the Programa Universidade Para Todos (PROUNI, University for All) offers scholarships for students who have enrolled in private universities, since in Brazil only the State and Federal universities are tuition-free. The program, which also sponsors students interested in further specialization, is funded through a system of tax-exemption organized by the national government.
REFERENCES

AUGUSTO, Heitor. Past,Present and Future: Cinema, Black Cinema and Short Films. In: Catálogo do 20o FestivalInternacional de Curtas de Belo Horizonte, Belo Horizonte, Fundação Clóvis Salgado, 2018. 

CARVALHO, Noel dosSantos. Cinema e representação racial: o cinema negro de Zózimo Bulbul. São Paulo, 2006. Tese (Doutorado) – Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas.Universidade de São Paulo. São Paulo, 2006. 

_____. O Produtor e o cineasta Zózimo Bulbul – o inventor do Cinema Negro Brasileiro. Revista Crioula, São Paulo, n. 12, nov. 2012.  

DE Jefferson e VIANNA, Biza. Zózimo Bulbul: uma alma carioca. Rio de Janeiro: Centro Afro Carioca de Cinema, 2014. 

NASCIMENTO, Beatriz. O conceito de quilombo ea resistência afro-brasileira. In: Nascimento, Elisa Larkin (Org.). Cultura emmovimento: matrizes africanas e ativismo negro no Brasil. São Paulo: Selo Negro,2008. p. 71 -91. 

SELONK, Patrícia. Distribuição Cinematográfica no Brasil e suasRepercussões. Pontifícia Universidade do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, 2004.  

VELASCO, Suzana. Sob a luz tropical: racismo e padrões de cor da indústria fotográfica no Brasil. Revista Zum, São Paulo: Instituto xMoreira Salles (IMS), n. 10, 2016. Disponível em:< https://revistazum.com.br/revista-zum-10/racismo-padroes-industria-brasil/> Acesso em 14/03/2020
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  1. Universal Exhibition or the World’s Fair were large events designed to showcase international achievements that were very important in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Terra Encantada was shot during the Independence Centenary International Exposition, held from 1922 to 1923 in Rio de Janeiro.
  2. Chanchada was the term given to the Brazilian popular musical comedies of the 1940s and 1950s by critics of the time. These critics considered these films to be simply bad copies of Hollywood features of the same genre. Atlântida was the most famous, but not the only, studio to produce chanchadas.
  3. I’m referring here to Christensen’s films Rei Pelé (1961), a biopic, and Cronica da Cidade Amada (1964), a widescreen film that can currently only be seen in a horribly cropped digital copy taken from a VHS tape.

1. Attraction and Retraction
Usually, we would begin an analysis of black representation in Brazilian cinema by listing a group of films associated with the Cinema Novo movement: Aruanda (Linduarte Noronha, 1960), The Turning Wind (Barravento, Glauber Rocha, 1962), Five Times Favela (Cinco vezes favela, Carlos Diegues, Leon Hirszman, Marcos Farias, Miguel Borges and Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, 1962), Bahia of All Saints (Bahia de todos os santos, Trigueirinho Neto, 1961), The Big Market (A grande feira, Roberto Pires, 1961), Ganga Zumba (Carlos Diegues, 1964). One can disrupt this corpus by offering an expanded view, mentioning two films that do not adhere to the stereotypical, paternalistic or submissive portrayals of black people often found throughout Brazilian cinema. Closer to the filmic language of Cinema Novo, we have Compasso de Espera (Marking Time, Antunes Filho, 1972). Compasso is linked to the movement's second phase where urban themes and the contradictions of the middle class are present in films such as The Dare (O Desafio, Paulo César Saraceni, 1965) and Bebel, Advertisement Girl (Bebel, garota propaganda, Maurice Capovilla, 1968). Soul in the Eye (Alma no Olho, Zózimo Bulbul, 1973), on the other hand, the first film by black filmmaker Zózimo Bulbul (made with leftover film stock from Compasso de Espera), distances itself from the Cinema Novo films, finding its strength in John Coltrane’s jazz and performance elements. Zózimo Bulbul stars in Compasso and directs Soul, so these films form a diptych via an umbilical relationship. Inspired by Eldridge Cleaver’s book Soul on Ice (1968),1 Soul in the Eye is Bulbul’s seminal work. It was made in the context of Cinema Novo but marks itself right from the start with an ambiguous distancing, an oscillation which would accompany the filmmaker throughout his oeuvre, both aesthetically and politically. Consequently, the films of Antunes Filho and Bulbul are simultaneously close and distant from the priorities that the Cinema Novo movement had delineated in the 1960s.
Despite eventual criticism towards black representation in the films of the Cinema Novo movement, Noel dos Santos Carvalho points out that the movement marked an important change of attitude in that respect:
Cinema Novo put black people front and center, away from the stereotypes spread in the past by the chanchadas, the films of the Vera Cruz Company and such. Its anti-racism was based on: 1) condemning racial stereotypes; 2) ignoring the concept of race in favor of the generalistic concept of people; 3) dealing with aspects of black history, religiosity and culture. (...) However, we want to emphasize the change of attitude, the disruption represented by a group of films that took black people away from stereotypical roles and made them the protagonists of their own stories.2
Applying cinema as a tool for thought and anti-racist political practice marks the common ground among Cinema Novo films. However, when considering the form and approach of the films, particularly those associated with black matters, Bulbul’s films appear distant from the Cinema Novo movement. In 1982, amid obscure transactions by Embrafilme,3 Bulbul harshly criticized Carlos Diegues and Walter Lima Jr., and even turned down an offer to work on King Chico (Chico Rei, Walter Lima Jr., 1985), because he considered it “historically abhorrent”, and “mild”, made to be shown “on Globo”.4 He opposed the film’s representation of black people but also the kind of filmic experience it provided, which to Zózimo was innocuous and lacking invention.
The plot thickens. Years later, in the epigraph of his first feature film, Abolition (Abolição, 1988), Bulbul inserts a dedication to two members of the Cinema Novo movement, Glauber Rocha and Leon Hirszman. It was a controversial move because, upon returning to Brazil after a self-imposed exile in Europe,5 it was noticeable how his relationship of attraction-retraction to Cinema Novo remained intact. In fact, today, it seems more accurate to evoke Bulbul as the filmmaker who worked with forms and themes that required an experimental style that no other Cinema Novo filmmaker had the tools to create. This dichotomy offers us a way to determine just how much of an alien Abolition is, be it in relation to Brazilian documentaries, to Cinema Novo or even to Bulbul’s own oeuvre. When considering the relations between cinema, Blackness and racism in Brazil, we identify in Abolition a sort of forcefield which indicates that, rather than integrating or not integrating hegemonic movements, Zózimo chose to follow his own path.
2. Atlantic Cinema
Abolition deals with filmic language within a specific technical and aesthetic dimension by extrapolating its documentary values and proposing a singular experience. Abolition is therefore linked to a group of films that deal with the relationship between documentary and fiction. It is organized in registers, interviews, archive footage and staged scenes in order to expose the opportunistic articulation between the historical lie of the abolition of slavery and the lived reality of black people in contemporary Brazil. Today, more than thirty years after its debut, Abolition seems less like “an expanded Alma no Olho”6 and more like an experience which resonates with these formally exploratory documentary and fiction works. It can accordingly be seen as an “Atlantic” film, i.e., a film made to bring forth a cosmos of free associations. Other examples include films such as The Age of Earth (A Idade da Terra, Glauber Rocha, 1980), Twenty Years Later (Cabra Marcado para Morrer, Eduardo Coutinho, 1984), Ôrí (Raquel Gerber, 1989), and The Thread of Memory (O Fio da Memória, Eduardo Coutinho, 1991). Atlantic Cinema is a cinema of crossing, a cinema pervaded by colonial and racial themes that are at the same time direct and indirect, objective and subjective. Atlantic Cinema contains a myriad of signs in movement through historical ages and facts, with a broad and dilated referential, in an audio-logo-visual polyphony embedded in the film’s form.
The film, with its unique approach, was not well-received by black filmmakers, black researchers or the black public — who, frankly, don’t usually have access to movie theaters. In a later essay on Bulbul, Noel dos Santos Carvalho reinforces the perception that Abolition’s experimentalism could not accomplish its intended effect, as it constituted “an inventory of speeches, performances and lectures regarding the abolition of slavery, which in part accounts for its irregular nature, its repetitions and excesses”. Carvalho also points out that “from the perspective of narrative structure, it’s the most didactic of these films, which adds to its irregular nature” and he adds: “Abolition, with a running time of 150 minutes, couldn't find acceptance from the audience. Not even among the black population. It was restricted to a small circle of intellectuals and activists of the black movement”. In his essay “Esboço para uma História do Negro no Cinema Brasileiro"7 Carvalho calls attention to the fact that the crew of the film was composed almost exclusively of black men and women (the exceptions being Miguel Rio Branco with his experimental cinematography and Severino Dadá with his precise editing), noting that “what we see is mediated by the gaze of this crew. So, it’s not only about telling the history of black people in Brazil, but having a black perspective of history”. In both cases, there seems to be a consensus that the eventual qualities of the film are present on a purely symbolic level, i.e., “out” of the film itself, whether due to the initial effort to try and problematize the abolition of slavery from a black gaze, or due to the representation of the ethnic composition of the crew. Ahead, I will propose some ideas based on the internal structure of the film, to affirm it as a major representation of Atlantic Cinema, the group of films that have formed a singular trajectory in Brazilian film.
3. Material and Treatment
In an interview with Peter Hessli in February 1994, American cinematographer Arthur Jafa makes a distinction between material and treatment. Not being able to choose the material with which to work, African diasporic creativity, self-affirmed by finding new uses, appropriates and deeply transforms the materials at hand: “So a lot of our creativity coalesced around the notion of treatment, that is, transforming in some meaningful fashion, given materials. (...)” Unlike photography and painting, in which the image, as a material product, is the point of arrival, the image produced by cinema is merely a point of departure. The equipment and materials needed to make a film are even more inaccessible to black populations, and so when black people appropriate it, it’s noticeable in very subtle ways. Jafa gives this example: John Coltrane taking My Favorite Things away from its original territory and, with a particular treatment, creating openings which were unthinkable until then, “African-American creativity has been shaped by the specific circumstances Black people found themselves in; we weren’t generally able to dictate the materials we were given to work with”. What makes Abolition extremely exceptional is that, unlike Bulbul’s first film, made with leftover film from Compasso de Espera, unlike the Cuban “archive cinema” of Nicolas Landrián and Santiago Álvarez or even Jafa himself, this film seems to be controlled both ways: in the style of its production and approach, there is a complete ownership of the creation and transformation of the material and the treatment. Said material and this treatment, coupled with the choice of a predominately black crew, indicate conscious aesthetic choices. 
Abolition cannot be simply reduced to a film that features a black gaze on black history, because history for the diasporic is never an ends but a means, a strategy always aimed at the future, for survival in a tough environment. This strategy has one purpose: to make life in the present possible. This seems to me to be he most potent definition of “ancestry”: the ability to tell one’s own history with enough power to break it apart and retell it, to build a singular history.
Besides all this, Abolition holds its place in the realm of “Atlantic Cinema” for the cosmic quality it possesses. In the film, a linear narrative and a propagandistic representation of reality give way to a field in which Bulbul articulates interviews, archive recordings and photos. Organized in a non-linear way, the film is an ample space without a center, a work in favor of orality, a trancelike sequence of shots, staged interviews, rhythmic editing and local energy. Abolition cannot be simply reduced to a film that features a black gaze on black history, because history for the diasporic is never an ends but a means, a strategy always aimed at the future, for survival in a tough environment. This strategy has one purpose: to make life in the present possible. This seems to me to be he most potent definition of “ancestry”: the ability to tell one’s own history with enough power to break it apart and retell it, to build a singular history. So, this is not about an absent or idealized blackness, nor an integrated and coherent resistance movement which unravels in the light of mistakes and conflict. This is about a black man’s gaze encompassed by a black and non-black cosmos which involves him and with which he negotiates his very existence.
4. “What about May 14th, 1888?”
The opening minutes of Abolition are crucial to understanding the way the film moves and develops. An intertitle with an historical marker exemplifies critical irreverence: May 12th, the day before the signing of the Lei Áurea, the documentation of Brazil’s official abolition of slavery. Further ahead, another intertitle: May 14th, 1888. In a text about the film, Bulbul asks: “how was May 14th, 1888?” Playing around with the dates moves the historical axis from the abolition as key event, in favor of relating its causes and consequences to the brutal, incomprehensible present, far from the grasp of history. Every image in the opening of the film is accompanied by the sound of the shutter cracking like a whip. We hear the voices of Clementina de Jesus, Tia Doca and Geraldo Filme singing "Canto I", from the 1982 album O Canto dos Escravos, part of the repertoire of work songs collected by philologist Aires da Mata Machado Filho in the late 1920s, in São João da Chapada, Diamantina, Minas Gerais. The shutter/whip accentuates each change of image — ultimately amassing a collection of photos and paintings that depict the horrors of slavery — in cuts that sometimes follow the rhythm perfectly and other times in a syncopated manner. The association between the shutter and the whip is meant to be in understood critically, signaling new and unexpected ways to think about racial issues in Brazil.
Finally, a third intertitle indicates: May 13th. “Dia de branco” (“day of the white [person]”), a once-common racist saying that was used to refer to the days of the work week in Brazil. A storm hits the city as the Abolition film crew arrives at the Imperial Palace, in Rio de Janeiro, where the shooting will take place. The key grip, a young black man, sets up a light. The lights are for the behind the scenes, there is no interview or any other reason for them. The film then proceeds to show a Congada8 coming into a church with banners. This elliptical manner of free associations, without explicit reason, is a prevalent structural element of the whole film. The variations in rhythm of editing and the interior lighting in the shot indicates a free conception of film form. All of the interviews in the film suggest a dramatic staging, contrary to the historical staging of the signing of the Lei Áurea. The über-fake feeling of this fictional signing of the Lei Áurea conveys to us that the law that freed the slaves was all an act. The purposefully idiotic intonation of actress Camila Amado, playing Princess Isabel, contrasts with the following scene, a long Carnaval parade in the Sambódromo,9 intercut with hilarious shots of the delirious Princess screaming from the balcony of her palace. From the portrayal of the colonial Princess who believed she was playing a key historical role, to the complex expression of Carnaval one hundred years later, an uncertain feeling stands out - something between beauty, discomfort and irony. In the Carnaval of Rio, Black bodies play instruments, dance, sing and work by pushing allegorical vehicles in the procession.10
The sequence of dedications which come soon after is peculiar: “to the master Glauber Rocha”, to Leon Hirszman and "to black filmmaker Hermínio de Oliveira", followed by a mention of the Movimento Negro Unificado (Unified Black Movement) over the images of carnavalgoers leaving the Sambódromo and heading to the Central do Brasil station. This station is where people usually take the train to the Zona Norte and Zona Oeste neighborhoods, as well as to the municipalities in Baixada Fluminense. At this moment in the film, we spot the great samba composer Catoni among the passerbys. We leave the harmonious sounds and dancing bodies of the Carnaval for the Central do Brasil station, and then move into the trains that take the black carnivalgoers to their homes in the Rio suburbs. Cut to a puppet theater show for children which deals directly with racism. Then, shots of the crowded Rio-Niterói ferry feature a synthesizer-heavy soundtrack reminiscent of Krautrock. Black construction workers and shoeshiners, a dog taking a dump, a woman at work, as we go into her house. A baby, a birth certificate dated 1868, and, then we stumble upon an impressive interview with Mr. Manoel, a former slave who, at 120 years of age, gives the following statement: “today we live in bitterness, we didn’t get paid but we had satisfaction. We were satisfied with the food, everyone was satisfied”.
A tone of subtle irony can be detected when we cut from the interview with the grandson of Princess Isabel, João de Orleans e Bragança, to the crew of black technicians with their equipment in hand leaving the Imperial Palace in a hurry. Then, with a single statement, Maria Beatriz do Nascimento dismantles the official truths of the Royal family by demonstrating how the political pact which culminated in the abolition of slavery threw the lives of the black population into precariousness. The passage from a Monarchy to a Republic:11 “black people stopped obeying their masters and started being controlled by the State”.
Joel Rufino sitting on a curb on the idyllic Pedra do Sal, the original stronghold of Rio’s urban samba. Bulbul and his editor, Severino Dadá, make use of an Eisensteinian montage, intercutting the Rufino interview with shots of waves hitting rocks. The sound design allows the urban soundscape and the musical soundtrack to coexist within the interview. Joel Rufino presents Aunt Carmen as a bastion of the Praça Onze, a location in Rio which at the start of the 20th century was known as Little Africa. Writer and actress Thereza Santos makes the assertion, while standing in a storm, that after the abolition the living conditions of black women grew worse.
Abolition, in effect, sets itself far from Cinema Novo by posing a different set of questions. The film relates to Brazilian history by parodying its sociological rules, and its style is similar to that of Frederick Wiseman’s in its use of cinema to apprehend reality by capturing objective information as well as fragmentary and temporary aspects. Such seemingly random displacements accentuate the polyphony and allow for an ambiguous relationship, either emphasizing Bulbul’s very presence, or sharing a space with the spectator, the crew, and the characters. It is not just about black gaze or Bulbul’s gaze; he captures a reality in the film that extrapolates subjectivity, organizing it by fields of action: modulation, intersections, fragments, rhythm and cutting, symbols, posters and words shown on screen.
5. Atlantic Trance
In Abolition, Bulbul allows for sections of the film to modulate through and from subtle changes in themes, signs and elements. One example of this is the samba and the various forms in which it is presented. There are sections in crossing, marked by intersections of the central issue with other “presences”, fragments and details which make it unstable: Native Brazilians, Northeasterners,12 and even white people, aiming at a tridimensional black gaze, i.e., opening up to a cosmological and sociological assimilation that is broader than what white hegemony allows. There is a fragmented and incomplete field intercut by shining presences. This field is marked by a very peculiar use of talking heads, shaped by the interaction of the camera with the interviewee: the theatrically beat-down presence of Benedita da Silva; Lélia Gonzalez talking and gesticulating in the sunlight. The bishop Dom Hélder Câmara providing a critical analysis of beaches overflowing with white bodies while Jards Macalé sings Rio sem tom, a song he wrote to criticize the fact that Tom Jobim had sold a song to Coca-Cola.13 Perhaps due to the influence of orthodox Marxism, Zózimo noticeably devoted very little time to Afro-Brazilian religions, favoring Dom Hélder’s strange interview. Even so, there is a precious interview with Mãe Filhinha, the founder of the IIê Axé Itayle terreiro14, in Cachoeira, Bahia.
Some critics and researchers have commented that Abolition is repetitive. I think this repetition is a necessary asset in the film’s structure, organized by intertwining themes and treatments. There is a trace of repetition which, like the absence of a narrator, can be understood as an aesthetic choice. And, like in The Age of the Earth, the repetition aims to provoke a state of trance, of hallucination. To repeat in order to hallucinate. Repetition brings forth the Atlantic trance. The consensus regarding Glauberian expression as an allegory begets very particular ways of exploring dynamic stasis, the static progression of the dispute between antagonistic forces, which indicates that, when it comes to Brazilian racism, everything is transformed in order to keep the status quo intact. As a complement to that field, there is the written word, posters, watchwords, and intertitles to rectify and break open the shots.
Some critics and researchers have commented that Abolition is repetitive. I think this repetition is a necessary asset in the film’s structure, organized by intertwining themes and treatments. There is a trace of repetition which, like the absence of a narrator, can be understood as an aesthetic choice. And, like in The Age of the Earth, the repetition aims to provoke a state of trance, of hallucination. To repeat in order to hallucinate. Repetition brings forth the Atlantic trance.
A particularly dark moment in the film is that of the anti-interview with anthropologist Gilberto Freyre, author of the classic study Casa Grande & Senzala.15 Unable to speak due to his poor health condition, Freyre is represented by hisson, who limits himself to repeating platitudes from Freyre’s work regarding the value of the “afroblack” element (his words). The camera moves slowly out of the room, as if to indicate an abandonment, which is reinforced by the underexposed cinematography. Other particularly interesting moments: the presence of communist politician Luís Carlos Prestes just twenty minutes into the film indicates a movement towards the unexpected, as it allows for a white political leader to speak in its first few minutes. Black sociologist and journalist Muniz Sodré walks through the corridors of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (I have to note how weird it is to see black people inside a Brazilian university in 1988). Francisco Lucrécio and Correia Leite tell the story of how the Frente Negra16  was founded in the 1930s. The Revolt of the Lash gets a special mention in the interviews of historian Edmar Morel and of the daughter of João Cândido.17 Two repentistas18 sing about the Abolition and the situation of black people in the history of Brazil.The widow of black poet and cultural agitator Solano Trindade complains that her husband’s memory is being erased. Abdias do Nascimento, a playwright, activist and politician, talks about his experience with the Black Experimental Theater.19 Reminiscent of Kanye West, a current icon who has blamed black people for slavery, singer Agnaldo Timóteo insists that first and foremost black people have to change their mentality. Composer Nei Lopes drinks beer while Paulo Moura plays his saxophone, in contrast with the part of São Paulo which is inhabited by people from the Northeast, cornered between misery and the commodification of life itself. Then, Zózimo exposes the violence of the Military Regime on black bodies. Despite the reflexive tone usually attributed to this film, Abolição doesn’t only express the vision of its author. Simultaneously close and away from Bulbul, a cinema with a collective soul is born, in a panel of diffuse presences, always elusive.
6. The Party is Over
The price paid for being black in Brazil is huge. Zózimo Bulbul’s trajectory in Brazilian cinema is linked to a personal effort to conquer his own ground to work in, and to make it possible for a black filmography to arise. The generosity of Bulbul’s Atlantic aesthetics is contrasted at times by a collective tendency to reinforce militant watchwords and the demand for basic rights. When a black person fails to correspond to what minority groups, society and even his brothers and sistas expect of him, his walk is even harder. Just ask Albert Ayler, John Coltrane or Itamar Assumpção. The list of black men and women who were misunderstood by the black movement because they failed to follow what the community considered appropriate is a long one. These black people are usually unlucky. Bulbul’s name is on that list, and so Abolition might have been a huge disappointment to those who followed his work. Either way, the film bets on collective experimentalism as a way to survive, even though it doesn’t end on an optimistic note.
Amid images of streets filled with trash and the luxury of show houses, Grande Otelo calls on the black “taskforce”: “Nothing was ever abolished and today we have it even worse, because now black and white people are slaves.” Next, black street children impress us with their direct, political discourse: “We are still slaves. No work, no healthcare, no education…” The tragic symbolism is exacerbated. These crescendo signals the end is near, just as the mamulengo doll announces: “And thus, ladies and gentlemen, we end our tragicomedy in various acts, without ever reaching the ending! The abolition of slavery in Brazil. Or, to put it bluntly: black people can go fuck themselves.” An intertitle announces the ending: “the party is over”. The camera is pointed at the Central do Brasil station, then moves slowly down behind the grates of Campo de Santana. The last shot is the Central do Brasil station seen from behind iron bars, materializing, with the camera movement, the mutual imprisonment and the thin dialectics of oppression.

1. Published in Brazil in 1971 under the title Alma no Exílio.

2. Carvalho, 2005

3. Embrafilme is the main producer of Brazilian films since the company’s conception in 1969 until its implosion in 1990. Embrafilme provided a certain level of infrastructure and helped forge a new public interest in Brazilian cinema despite the fact that the market was dominated by foreign studios. However, Embrafilme’s practices were also met with criticism from filmmakers who made the accusation that they prioritized certain films while delaying the commercial release of others.

4. Rede Globo is Brazil’s largest TV network and the largest media conglomerate in Latin America.

5. Carvalho, 2005

6. Ibid.

7. Draft for a History of Black People in Brazilian Cinema, translated freely, 2005.

8. A popular street procession with song and dance that reenacts the coronation of a king in Congo.

9. A large construction in Rio de Janeiro where the samba school parades take place during Carnaval.

10. Tall vehicles designed in accordance with the theme of that year’s parade.

11. The Republic was installed on November 15th, 1889.

12. People from the Northeast of Brazil are historically subjected to prejudice from the richer regions of Brazil. Especially the South and Southeast.

13. The song was Águas de Março, which was used with new lyrics in many Coca-Cola TV spots during the 1980s.

14. Terreiros are the houses in which the Candomblé religion is practiced.

15. Published in English under the title The Masters and the Slaves.

16. Frente Negra Brasileira, or Brazilian Black Front, was the first black political party in Brazil.

17. The Revolt of the Lash (Revolta da Chibata) was a naval mutiny which took place in Rio de Janeiro in November, 1910. It was a response to the frequent whipping of black sailors by white naval officers. The Revolt was led by João Cândido Felisberto.

18. Repente is a kind of improvised poetry typical of the Northeast.

19. Teatro Experimental do Negro was a theater company founded in 1944 and ended in 1961.
REFERENCES

CARVALHO, Noel dos Santos. “Esboço para uma história do negro no cinema Brasileiro”. In: De, Jeferson. Dogma feijoada, o cinema negro brasileiro. São Paulo: Imprensa Oficial, 2005.

_____. O Produtor e Cineasta Zózimo Bulbul — O Inventor do Cinema Negro Brasileiro. Revista Crioula (USP), v. 12, p. 1-21, 2012.

DAVID, Marcell Carrasco. Abolição: escavações e memórias sobre o Cinema Negro de Zózimo Bulbul. Dissertação de Mestrado, PUC-Rio, 2020.

JAFA, Arthur. “The Notion of Treatment: Black Aesthetics and Film”. In Pearl Bowser, Jane Gaines and Charles Musser (eds.): Oscar Micheaux and His Circle, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001, pp. 11-17.
Mário de Oliveira Ramos, better known as Vassourinha, died at the age of 19 in 1942. That is the main statement relayed in Vassourinha: The Voice and the Void (1998), a short experimental film by Carlos Adriano. The film is a celebration, but also a lament. Somewhere between the late 1930s and early 1940s, the voice of a black teenager from São Paulo showed a lot of promise and was suddenly silenced. The film is built around this notion of a beginning followed by a violent interruption. It is about Vassourinha, but also about all of the other suddenly silenced voices throughout history. Brazilian voices plunged into the void. Why are there so many? Why are we so competent at silencing them?
Carlos Adriano reacts to this silencing in Vassourinha: The Voice and the Void by undergoing a materialist plunge, as he dives into the available records from Vassourinha's life. With the exception of the final scene, the film particularly utilizes two types of sources. The first and perhaps most important of these is the voice of Vassourinha. While most documentaries allow the voices of others to become the authorities on the life of forgotten artists, Adriano isn’t interested in having audiences rediscover Vassourinha in this typical way. In the film, there are no interviews with experts who praise Vassourinha, just as there is no traditional omniscient narration to tell his story. However, the voice we do hear in the film is that of the singer himself, edited and organized to elicit new meanings by the filmmaker. For Adriano, Vassourinha’s music should be the sole driving verbal force relaying his own story, above all allowing the tone of Vassourinha’s voice to set the dramatic arc in motion. As a result, Vassourinha himself takes on the lead role in the film, as mediator of his own rediscovery. He matters because the music we hear in the film matters. There are no experts on his life just as there are no fans who reminisce about his music. This is a film acting as the rediscovery of a memory completely devoid of nostalgia. The goal of the work is not simply to recover lost time. If Vassourinha does come to represent a symbol by the film's end, it is that of the ongoing process of silencing in Brazilian history.
The other central resource that The Voice and the Void utilizes is previously unearthed archival materials. Throughout the first three-quarters of the film, the shots consist of all the materials that Adriano and Bernardo Vorobow managed to collect about the artist. Photos, record covers, concert ads, newspaper clippings… All of these elements become clues to a forgotten history. As The Voice and the Void is a film of radical materialism, its meaning lies in the historical traces that were left behind by Vassourinha, such as these numerous memorabilia that had been withering away for nearly sixty years. When the camera centers on an article from a torn newspaper, the state of its condition is emphasized as much as its content. In highlighting this material condition, the film is intent on stopping the process of oblivion. Film itself thus becomes a gesture toward the recovering of memory.
Memory has always been a central concept throughout Adriano's oeuvre, it spreads over the texture of his every film. This is especially evident within Remainiscences (1997) and The Voice and the Void. After the death of Vorobow, his life partner and producer, what was a history of images is taken over by a memory-feeling, remembrances in moving images which speak directly to the filmmaker (his 2010 feature Santos-Dumont, pré-cineasta? marking the transition between these two phases). In The Voice and the Void the texture of memory bears a terrorizing feeling because the oblivion that the filmmaker fights is, historically, a cultural process that is highly characteristic of Brazil. The silencing of Vassourinha represents a deeper silence throughout Brazil’s history. The title of the film indicates this process: the voice, but also the void. And even if the film is taken over by Vassourinha’s music, its most memorable moments happen when Adriano interferes with it searching for effects, first making the record skip with an echo, and later interrupting the singer’s voice completely. There is nothing sadder than a film about a singer with silence. We dive into his void.
The Voice and the Void is a film about recovery, but it is also a film about resisting the historical tendency towards cultural erasure and oblivion so common to Brazil. Thus the film bears the mark of death. Mário de Oliveira Ramos died at 19, 56 years before Carlos Adriano made him this film. The film doesn’t allow us to forget that once. Death is brought to the fore again and again. His death certificate is shown and emphasized. In its final minutes, the film abandons the archives and heads to a location: the cemetery where Vassourinha is buried. The camera moves with a mix of freedom and sorrow (the cinematography is carefully executed by filmmaker Carlos Reichenbach), and in a final movement, it reaches out for the grave of Vassourinha. Thus ends the film, at the singer’s gravestone, simultaneously forgotten and remembered. One last material affirmation of memory, one last attempt at confronting death. Vassourinha’s voice lives on, but the void in Brazil’s collective memory continues on unperturbed. The film’s task is that of unbalancing said void, even if just for a while.
* This piece was originally published in Portuguese as part of the book Curta brasileiro: 100 filmes essenciais, organized by the Brazilian Association of Film Critics (Abraccine) in October, 2019.
1. Atração e Retração
É comum iniciar uma análise sobre a questão negra e a representação afrodescendente no Cinema Brasileiro elencando, primeiramente, um conjunto de filmes associados ao Cinema Novo: Aruanda (Linduarte Noronha,1959-1960); Barravento (Glauber Rocha, 1962); Cinco Vezes Favela (Carlos Diegues, Leon Hirszman, Marcos Farias, Miguel Borges e Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, 1962); Bahia de todos os santos (Trigueirinho Neto, 1961); A grande feira (Roberto Pires, 1961); Ganga Zumba (Carlos Diegues, 1964). Podemos desalinhar essa clivagem oferecendo uma visão expandida, mencionando também dois filmes que fogem aos estereótipos comuns e às representações subalternas ou paternalistas do negro no cinema brasileiro. Mais próximo de uma linguagem passível de ser considerada “cinemanovista”, Compasso de Espera (Antunes Filho, 1973) se relaciona a um segundo momento, comprometido com temáticas urbanas e contradições restritas à classe média presentes em filmes como O Desafio (Paulo César Saraceni, 1965) e Bebel, garota propaganda (Maurice Capovilla, 1968). Já Alma no Olho (Zózimo Bulbul, 1973), primeiro filme do diretor negro brasileiro Zózimo Bulbul, realizado a partir das sobras de negativo de Compasso de Espera, distancia-se do Cinema Novo e busca sua força no jazz de John Coltrane e em elementos de performance e do Cinema Underground norte-americano. Zózimo Bulbul é ator no primeiro e diretor do segundo, o que faz com que esses dois filmes formem uma espécie de díptico e mantenham entre si uma relação umbilical. Inspirado no livro de Eldridge Cleaver Soul on Ice (1968),1 a obra inaugural de Bulbul nasce, portanto, no contexto do Cinema Novo, demarcando, logo no seu início, um distanciamento ambíguo, uma oscilação que atravessará a obra do diretor tanto do ponto de vista estético quanto político. À inflexão cinemanovista que se desenha a partir dos anos 60, os filmes de Antunes Filho e Bulbul assinalam proximidade e distanciamento simultâneos do primado cinemanovista.
Apesar das críticas que possam ser endereçadas às representações do negro nos filmes do Cinema Novo, o pesquisador Noel dos Santos Carvalho aponta como o movimento operou como um marcador histórico importante para uma mudança de atitude em relação às representações do Negro:
O Cinema Novo colocou o negro no centro da cena rompendo e condenando os estereótipos difundidos pela chanchada, Vera Cruz e adjacências. Seu anti-racismo se baseou na: 1) condenação dos estereótipos raciais; 2) na ignorância à idéia de raça e a sua submissão à categoria mais geral de povo; 3) na tematização de aspectos da história, religiosidade e cultura do negro. (…) No entanto, o que queremos reter aqui é a mudança de atitude, a ruptura que significou um conjunto de filmes que tiraram o negro dos papéis estereotipados tradicionais, colocando-os como protagonistas das histórias.2
O emprego do cinema como ferramenta de pensamento e prática política antirracista marca a aproximação, enquanto a forma e a abordagem dos filmes, particularmente associados à questão negra, parece afastar Bulbul do Cinema Novo. Em 1982, em meio aos meandros obscuros das políticas ligadas à Embrafilme,3 Bulbul lançou críticas duras em direção a Cacá Diegues e a Walter Lima Jr, chegando a recusar um papel para trabalhar em Chico Rei (Walter Lima Jr., 1985), pois considerava que “historicamente é terrível”, uma “coisa pasteurizada” destinada a exibição “na telinha da Globo”.4 Uma insatisfação com a representação do negro, mas também com o tipo de experiência cinematográfica, que Zózimo considerava pasteurizada, desprovida de invenção.
A questão se adensa. Anos mais tarde, Bulbul registra na epígrafe de seu primeiro longa-metragem, Abolição (Zózimo Bulbul, 1988), uma dedicatória controversa a dois nomes do Cinema Novo, Glauber Rocha e Leon Hirszman. Controversa porque, em seu retorno ao Brasil após auto-exílio na Europa,5 podia-se afirmar que conservava-se aquela relação inicial de atração e retração entre o cinema de Bulbul e o Cinema Novo. De modo que, hoje, parece mais proveitoso evocar o cineasta que operou um trabalho de seleção de possibilidades formais e temáticas, submetida a um jogo experimental que nenhum cineasta do Cinema Novo teve ferramentas para realizar. Esta relação parece nos oferecer uma via interpretativa interessante para abordar o quanto Abolição é alienígena tanto em relação ao documentário brasileiro, quanto ao Cinema Novo e até mesmo em relação à própria obra de Bulbul. Sob o prisma das relações entre cinema, negritude e racismo no Brasil, identifica-se em Abolição uma espécie de campo de força que se sustenta por si mesmo, indicando que, entre integrar-se ou não aos movimentos hegemônicos, Zózimo seguiu seu próprio caminho.
2. Cinema Atlântico
Pelo modo como lida não apenas com o constructo cinematográfico, como também por sua dimensão técnica e estética específica, que Abolição, único longa produzido e dirigido por Bulbul, extrapola o valor documental e se propõe a desenvolver uma experiência singular. Para além de uma relação de atração-retração com o Cinema Novo, Abolição parece se articular a um outro conjunto de filmes que constituem modo específicos de tratar as relações entre a ficção e o documentário. Abolição se organiza a partir de registros, algumas encenações, entrevistas e imagens de arquivo, visando expor a articulação oportunista entre a farsa histórica da Abolição a realidade de negras e negros no Brasil contemporâneo. Visto hoje, mais de 30 anos de sua aparição, Abolição se parece menos com “um programa ampliado de Alma no Olho6 do que com uma experiência a ser tomada em ressonância com esses filmes. Gosto de pensar que Abolição pode ser considerado um filme “Atlântico”, isto é, um filme construído a partir de estratégias arquitetadas para fazer emergir um cosmos de relações e associações livres. Filmes como A Idade da Terra (Glauber Rocha, 1981), Cabra Marcado para Morrer (Eduardo Coutinho, 1984), Ôrí (Raquel Gerber, 1989), O Fio da Memória (Eduardo Coutinho, 1991) e Abolição. Cinema Atlântico, qual seja, cinema de travessia, cinema atravessado pela temática colonial/racial de forma simultaneamente direta e indireta, objetiva e subjetiva. Constitui-se como miríade de signos em movimento, atravessando eras e fatos históricos, através de um referencial abrangente e dilatado, uma polifonia audiologovisual embutida na própria forma do filme.
O filme não foi recebido em suas características mais originais por cineastas, pesquisadores e mesmo pelo público negro, que, a bem da verdade, não costuma ter acesso aos cinemas brasileiros. Em um ensaio sobre Bulbul (2012), o pesquisador Noel dos Santos Carvalho reforça a percepção de que o experimentalismo de Abolição não teria alcançado o efeito desejado, constituindo-se como “um inventário de falas, performances e discursos sobre a Abolição, o que explica em parte sua irregularidade, repetições e excessos.” Carvalho também afirma que “do ponto de vista da estrutura narrativa é o mais didático dos filmes anteriores, o que contribui para a sua irregularidade” e completa: “Abolição com os seus 150 minutos de projeção não teve grande aceitação entre o público. Nem mesmo entre a população negra. Ficou restrito a um pequeno círculo de intelectuais e ativistas do movimento negro.” Em seu ensaio Esboço para uma História do Negro no Cinema Brasileiro"7 Carvalho ressalta a presença da equipe técnica, formada quase que exclusivamente por negras e negros (com exceção da fotografia experimental de Miguel Rio Branco e da montagem precisa de Severino Dadá), observando que “o que vemos está mediado pelo olhar dessa equipe. Assim, não se trata apenas de contar a história do negro no Brasil, mas de um ponto de vista negro sobre a história.” Em ambos os casos, parece consenso que as eventuais qualidades se concentram no plano simbólico, isto é, fora do filme, seja pelo esforço inicial — a tentativa de problematizar a "Abolição" a partir de um olhar negro —, seja pela representatividade da composição étnica de seus quadros técnicos. A seguir proponho algumas ideias a partir da construção interna do filme, no sentido de afirmá-lo como o corolário de uma trajetória singular no cinema brasileiro.
3. Material e Tratamento
Em uma entrevista dada a Peter Hessli em fevereiro de 1994, o fotógrafo norte-americano Arthur Jafa faz uma distinção muito particular entre material e tratamento. Na ausência da possibilidades de produzir a partir de seu próprio material, a criatividade afrodiaspórica se afirmou através de novos usos, apropriações e modificações profundas dos materiais disponíveis: “muita da nossa criatividade se fundiu em torno da noção de tratamento, isto é, transformando dados materiais de alguma maneira significativa. (…)” Ao contrário da fotografia e da pintura, em que a imagem, enquanto produção material, é o ponto de chegada, a imagem produzida pelo cinema é apenas um ponto de partida. O acesso aos equipamentos e aos materiais capazes de produzir filmes é ainda mais inacessível para as populações negras, de modo que se pode perceber que sua apropriação também se diferencia a partir dos traços mais sutis. O caso mencionado por Jafa é exemplar: John Coltrane deslocando My Favorite Things de seu campo original, para, através de um tratamento particular, criar fissuras e aberturas antes impensáveis. “A criatividade afro-americana foi moldada pelas circunstâncias específicas em que os negros se viram; geralmente não fomos capazes de especificar os materiais que nos foram dados para trabalhar.” O que faz com que “Abolição” se afigure como um caso de extrema excepcionalidade é que, ao contrário de seu primeiro filme, realizado a partir de negativos que sobraram de “Compasso de espera”, do “cinema de arquivo” cubano de Nicolas Landrián e Santiago Álvarez ou do próprio Jafa, é que o filme parece se dirigir nos dois sentidos: na produção e na abordagem, perfazendo um domínio completo de criação e modificação sobre o material e o tratamento expressivo. Material e tratamento produzidos simultaneamente, ao lado da equipe negra, extrapolam a carga simbólica de um domínio, de um controle do modo de produção, e indicam decisões estéticas conscientes.
Sob esse aspecto, não basta dizer que “Abolição” encerra um olhar negro sobre sua própria história, pois a história para o desterritorializado nunca é um fim, mas um meio, uma estratégia que se lança sempre para o porvir, para a sobrevivência em contexto adverso. Estratégia com qual objetivo? Abrir as condições de possibilidade para a vida no presente. Este me parece ser o sentido mais potente para o termo “ancestralidade”: a capacidade de contar sua própria história investido de força suficiente para saber também desmontá-la e recontá-la, visando a elaboração de uma história singular.
Para além dessa característica, o cinema em Abolição é “atlântico” pelo seu caráter de cosmicidade. A narrativa linear e a representação panfletária da realidade cedem espaço para um campo de atravessamentos no qual Bulbul articula depoimentos, registros e fotografias. Escapando da linearidade do storytelling e incorporando uma organização de cunho não-linear, Bulbul teve a oportunidade de pensar o filme a partir de outros tratamentos expressivos, organizando-o como uma amplidão desprovida de centralidade, valorizando a oralidade, a planificação em transe, depoimentos dramatizados, a montagem rítmica e a presença, a captação da energia local. Sob esse aspecto, não basta dizer que “Abolição” encerra um olhar negro sobre sua própria história, pois a história para o desterritorializado nunca é um fim, mas um meio, uma estratégia que se lança sempre para o porvir, para a sobrevivência em contexto adverso. Estratégia com qual objetivo? Abrir as condições de possibilidade para a vida no presente. Este me parece ser o sentido mais potente para o termo “ancestralidade”: a capacidade de contar sua própria história investido de força suficiente para saber também desmontá-la e recontá-la, visando a elaboração de uma história singular. Não falamos, portanto, de uma negritude ausente e idealizada, tampouco de um movimento de resistência integrado e coeso, mas que se desfia na equivocidade da presença e dos conflitos. O olhar de um homem negro envolvido por uma cosmicidade negra e não-negra que o envolve, e com a qual ele negocia sua própria existência.
4. “Como teria sido o dia 14 de maio de 1888?”
Os minutos iniciais do filme são cruciais para compreender o seu movimento e desenvolvimento. A cartela contendo a posição temporal manifesta a marca da irreverência crítica: 12 de maio, o dia anterior à assinatura da Lei Áurea. Mais à frente, outra cartela anuncia: 14 de maio de 1888. Em texto sobre o filme, Bulbul teria perguntado: “como teria sido o dia 14 de maio de 1888?” O jogo com as datas desloca o eixo histórico da Abolição enquanto grande evento, favorecendo a percepção das causas e consequências para o presente brutal e incompreensível que se encontra fora do compasso da história. A cada imagem que é mostrada nos primeiros minutos de filme, ouvimos o estalar do obturador soando como se fosse um chicote. Nas vozes de Clementina de Jesus, Tia Doca e Geraldo filme, inicia-se o Canto I do álbum O Canto dos Escravos (1982), que integra o repertório de canções de trabalho recolhidas pelo filólogo Aires da Mata Machado Filho no fim dos anos 20 do século passado, em São João da Chapada, município de Diamantina, Minas Gerais. O obturador-chicote marca a passagem de uma imagem a outra, entre pinturas e fotografias que retratam as mazelas da escravidão, ora na cabeça do ritmo, ora de maneira sincopada. Há evidentemente uma ambiguidade entre o sentido crítico e a abertura para uma perspectiva paródica que permite criar um paralelo entre o obturador e o chicote, sinalizando que estamos diante de uma abertura improvável para pensar o problema racial no Brasil.
Finalmente, uma terceira cartela indica: dia 13 de maio. “Dia de branco”, uma expressão racista que se costumava utilizar no Brasil para dizer que é dia de trabalhar. A cidade está sob uma forte tempestade, enquanto a equipe chega ao Paço Imperial no Rio de Janeiro, local da filmagem. O iluminador, um jovem negro, prepara a luz. Os bastidores são iluminados, mas o corte não nos leva para algum depoimento ou justificativa. Somos remetidos diretamente para as imagens da Congada8 entrando na igreja com seus estandartes. Esse caráter às vezes elípticos, às vezes atravessado por associações livres ou desprovido de encadeamento explicativo, atravessará todo o filme. As variações no ritmo da montagem e da iluminação interna dos planos denota uma forma muito livre de pensar o momento do registro e sua montagem. Todos os depoimentos e falas sugerem uma encenação dramática, ao contrário de uma das duas encenações do filme, a assinatura da Lei Áurea. Pela aparência arqui-falsa, esta sequência nos remete a percepção de que o decreto de libertação dos escravos fora justamente uma farsa. A entonação propositalmente apalermada de Camila Amado, atriz que representa a Princesa Isabel, contrasta com a sequência seguinte, um longo registro de um desfile de carnaval no Sambódromo,9 alternando com trechos hilários da princesa em delírio na sacada do palácio. Entre a representação da Princesa que acreditava em seu papel histórico determinante e, cem anos depois, a expressão complexa do carnaval na avenida, vigora um sentimento inominável entre a beleza, o mal estar e a ironia. No carnaval carioca, os corpos negros tocam, dançam, cantam e trabalham empurrando os carros alegóricos.10
The sequence of dedications which come soon after is peculiar: “to the master Glauber Rocha”, to Leon Hirszman and "to black filmmaker Hermínio de Oliveira", followed by a mention of the Movimento Negro Unificado (Unified Black Movement) over the images of carnavalgoers leaving the Sambódromo and heading to the Central do Brasil station. This station is where people usually take the train to the Zona Norte and Zona Oeste neighborhoods, as well as to the municipalities in Baixada Fluminense. At this moment in the film, we spot the great samba composer Catoni among the passerbys. We leave the harmonious sounds and dancing bodies of the Carnaval for the Central do Brasil station, and then move into the trains that take the black carnivalgoers to their homes in the Rio suburbs. Cut to a puppet theater show for children which deals directly with racism. Then, shots of the crowded Rio-Niterói ferry feature a synthesizer-heavy soundtrack reminiscent of Krautrock. Black construction workers and shoeshiners, a dog taking a dump, a woman at work, as we go into her house. A baby, a birth certificate dated 1868, and, then we stumble upon an impressive interview with Mr. Manoel, a former slave who, at 120 years of age, gives the following statement: “today we live in bitterness, we didn’t get paid but we had satisfaction. We were satisfied with the food, everyone was satisfied”.
A sequência das dedicatórias são curiosas: “ao mestre Glauber Rocha”, a Leon Hirszman e "ao cineasta negro Hermínio de Oliveira". Em seguida, uma menção ao Movimento Negro Unificado (MNU) por sobre as imagens de foliões saindo do Sambódromo para a Central do Brasil, local onde a população costuma pegar o trem para acessar tanto os bairros da Zona Norte e Oeste do Rio de Janeiro, como também os municípios da Baixada Fluminense — neste momento, é possível perceber o grande sambista carioca Catoni entre os transeuntes. Dos sons harmoniosos e corpos dançantes investidos na batucada carnavalesca, rumamos para a Central, para dentro dos trens que levam os foliões negros e negras para suas casas no subúrbio carioca. Corta para um Teatro de bonecos para crianças, que falam abertamente sobre racismo. As cenas da Barca Rio-Niterói lotada são embaladas por uma trilha sonora sintetizadores à moda do Krautrock. Operários e engraxates negros, um cachorro caga, uma mulher trabalha, entramos pela sua casa. Um bebê, uma certidão de nascimento datada de 1868 e, de repente, topamos com a impressionante entrevista de Seu Manoel, ex-escravo que, do alto de seus 120 anos, concedeu o depoimento a seguir:11 "Hoje estamos na amargura, não ganhávamos dinheiro mas tínhamos satisfação. A comida era outra e todos ficavam satisfeitos."
O tom de ironia sutil se instala quando ocorre o corte entre o final do depoimento de João de Orleans e Bragança, neto da Princesa Isabel, e a equipe de técnicos negros e negras que saem às pressas do Paço Imperial com os equipamentos nas mãos. Na sequência, Maria Beatriz do Nascimento desfaz as certezas oficiais da Família Real, mostrando como o pacto político que resultou na Abolição da Escravatura acabou por precarizar a vida da população negra, pois na passagem da Monarquia para a República, “os negros deixaram de obedecer aos senhores e passaram a ser controlados pelo Estado”. Joel Rufino sentado no meio-fio, na idílica Pedra do Sal, reduto inaugural do samba urbano carioca. Bulbul e seu montador, Severino Dadá, operam uma montagem eisensteiniana, alternando o depoimento agudo de Rufino com imagens das ondas do mar batendo nas pedras. O tratamento sonoro parece deixar o som da cidade e da trilha sonora vazar, partilhando espaço sonoro com o depoimento. Joel Rufino apresenta Tia Carmem como baluarte da Praça Onze, localizada no Rio de Janeiro, local que no início do século passado era conhecido como "Pequena África". Irrompe o depoimento da escritora Thereza Santos afirmando que, após a Abolição, a vida da mulher negra piorou.
O filme retoma a questão da expressão social do samba urbano a partir do registro de uma roda de sambistas oriundos de Escolas de Samba como Estácio, Mangueira, Portela, entre outras. Distancia-se do Cinema Novo porque faz outras perguntas. Relaciona-se com a História do Brasil de uma maneira paródica em relação aos ditames sociológicos, aproximando-se, por exemplo, de um cineasta como Frederick Wiseman, no sentido de que usa o cinema para apreender a realidade captando não somente as informações objetivas, como também seus aspectos fragmentários e provisórios. Esses deslocamentos aparentemente aleatórios, acentuam a polifonia e abrem espaço para que Bulbul mantenha uma relação vazada e ambígua, ora ressaltando sua presença, ora partilhando espaço com o espectador, a equipe e os personagens. Não se trata somente do "olhar negro" ou simplesmente do olhar de Bulbul; ele capta com o filme uma realidade que extrapola a subjetividade, organizando por campos de ação: campo de modulações, de atravessamentos, de fragmentos, de corte-e-ritmo e campo simbólico, relativo aos cartazes e às palavras que por vezes são mostradas na tela.
5. O Transe Atlântico
Em Em Abolição, Bulbul institui campos que modulam através e a partir demodificações sutis de temática, signos e elementos. Sobre esse aspecto, o casodo samba e das várias formas sob as quais se apresenta parece exemplar. Há oscampos em modo de travessia, marcado por atravessamentos: cruzamentos daquestão central com outras “presenças”, fragmentos e detalhes que irrompem edesestabilizam: a presença indígena, a população nordestina,12 e até mesmo de população branca, apontando para uma tridimensionalização do olhar negro, isto é, a abertura para uma assimilação cosmológica e social mais aberta do aquela permitida pelas estruturas de poder hegemônico. Há um campo fragmentário, incompleto, costurado por participações fulgurantes. Este campo é marcado por uma utilização muito particular do talking head, plasmada sobre a forma como a câmera contracena com o depoente: a presença teatralmente desanimada de Benedita da Silva; Lélia Gonzalez falando, gesticulando, iluminada pelo sol. O Bispo Dom Helder analisando criticamente as imagens embranquecidas das praias cariocas com Jards Macalé ao fundo, cantando Rio sem tom, canção que compôs criticando o fato de Tom Jobim ter vendido uma música para a Coca-Cola13 Talvez por carregar a herança do marxismo ortodoxo, contrário às religiões, é preciso notar que Zózimo concedeu pouquíssimo espaço para as religiões afrobrasileiras, priorizando a estranheza do depoimento de Dom Hélder. Ainda assim, é preciosa a entrevista com Mãe Filhinha, fundadora do Terreiro IIê Axé Itayle,14 em Cachoeira, na Bahia.
Alguns críticos e pesquisadores atribuem ao filme a característica de ser repetitivo. Penso que essa repetição se apresenta como um artifício necessário na construção do filme, organizado pela modulações entrecruzadas de temas e tratamentos. Há um traço de uma repetição que, assim como a ausência de narração, pode ser encarada enquanto decisão estética. E que, como em A Idade da Terra, a repetição opera no sentido do transe, da alucinação. Repetir para alucinar. A repetição propicia o transe Atlântico. O consenso em torno da expressão glauberiana enquanto alegoria pode ser desdobrada em formas muito particulares de exploração da stásis dinâmica, da progressão estática que busca marcar o jogo entre forças antagônicas, indicando que, no caso do racismo brasileiro, tudo se transforma para manter o jogo tal e qual. Como complemento a esse campo, há a palavra escrita, os cartazes, as palavras de ordem, a cartela como forma de retificação disjuntiva do plano.
Alguns críticos e pesquisadores atribuem ao filme a característica de ser repetitivo. Penso que essa repetição se apresenta como um artifício necessário na construção do filme, organizado pela modulações entrecruzadas de temas e tratamentos. Há um traço de uma repetição que, assim como a ausência de narração, pode ser encarada enquanto decisão estética. E que, como em A Idade da Terra, a repetição opera no sentido do transe, da alucinação. Repetir para alucinar. A repetição propicia o transe Atlântico.
Um momento particularmente sombrio é o anti-depoimento do antropólogo Gilberto Freyre, autor do clássico estudo Casa-Grande& Senzala.15 Impossibilitado de falar por motivos de saúde, Freyre foi representado por seu filho, que limitou-se a repetir platitudes do discurso freyre ano acerca da valorização do elemento "afro negro" (em suas palavras). O movimento de câmera saindo da sala lentamente, como que indicando uma retirada da sala, um abandono, reforçada pela iluminação estourada. Outros momentos particularmente interessantes: a presença do político comunista brasileiro Luís Carlos Prestes indica uma motivação pelo inesperado, ao reservar, de saída, espaço para a fala de um líder político branco. O sociólogo e jornalista negro Muniz Sodré anda pelos corredores da Universidade Federal  do Rio de Janeiro — cabe observar o quão estranha é para o Brasil de 1988 a cena de negros frequentando corredores de uma Universidade… Francisco Lucrécio e Correa Leite narram a fundação da Frente Negra16  na década de 30. Há uma menção especial à Revolta da Chibata (1910) através dos depoimentos do historiador Edmar Morel sobre a luta do marinheiro João Cândido e, depois, o depoimento da filha de João Cândido.18 Dois poetas repentistas17 improvisam versos sobre a Abolição na história do Brasil. A viúva do poeta e agitador cultural negro Solano Trindade reclama do apagamento da memória do esposo. Abdias do Nascimento nos fala sobre sua experiência com o Teatro Experimental do Negro.19 Semelhante a Kanye West, que culpa os negros pela escravidão, Agnaldo Timóteo insiste na ideia de que, em primeiro lugar, o próprio negro precisa mudar sua mentalidade. Nei Lopes na escadaria tomando uma cerveja com fundo musical do saxofonista Paulo Moura contrasta com a São Paulo nordestina, espremida entre a miséria, a propaganda e a comercialização da vida. Na sequência, Zózimo expôs imagens da violência do Regime Militar de 1964 sobre os corpos negros. Ao contrário da característica reflexiva que geralmente se atribui ao filme, Abolição não se limita a expressar a visão do autor. Simultaneamente através e ao largo da presença de Bulbul, instaura-se um cinema “alma-coletiva” que, ancorado ao painel difuso de presenças, parece assumir que algo sempre lhe escapa, sempre lhe escapará.
6. A Festa Acabou
O preço que se paga no Brasil por ser negro é imenso. A trajetória de Zózimo Bulbul no cinema brasileiro está conectada a um esforço pessoal por firmar tanto um espaço de produção próprio, como consolidar meios expressivos ligados à ideia de uma cinematografia negra. A generosidade da estética Atlântica de Zózimo Bulbul contrasta às vezes com uma certa tendência coletiva ao enaltecimento das palavras de ordem, dos mandamentos básicos e diretos. Quando o negro foge ao script e às expectativas dos grupos minoritários, da sociedade, e até mesmo de seus brothers and sistas, a caminhada se torna ainda mais pedregosa. Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, Itamar Assumpção que o digam… É longa a lista de negros que não foram compreendidos nem pelo próprio movimento negro, porque não correspondiam àquilo que a comunidade considerava pertinente. Esses negros fora das expectativas são intempestivos. O nome de Bulbul se inscreve nesse rol de artistas e, nesse sentido, Abolição pode ter sido um grande balde de água fria nas expectativas dos que acompanhavam seu trabalho. Para o bem e para o mal, o filme dobra a aposta na experimentação coletiva como forma de sobrevivência, ainda que seu final não seja necessariamente otimista.
Entremeada por imagens do lixo nas ruas e do luxo nas casas de espetáculo, Grande Otelo convoca a "força-tarefa" da negritude brasileira: "ninguém aboliu nada e hoje é ainda pior, pois hoje negros e brancos são escravos." Na sequência, crianças de rua negras impressionam pela clareza de seu discurso político: "Até hoje somos escravos, sem trabalho, sem hospital, sem escola..." Exacerba-se o simbolismo trágico. O crescendo indica que o final se aproxima, justamente quando o boneco mamulengo anuncia: "E assim, senhoras e senhores, acabamos de apresentar a tragicomédia em vários atos, sem nunca ter um final! A Abolição da Escravatura no Brasil. Ou em linguagem vulgar: os negros que vão pra puta que os pariu.” Uma cartela anuncia o fim: "a festa acabou". A câmera mira a Central do Brasil, desce lentamente por trás das grades do Campo de Santana. A última cena é a visão da Central intermediada por barras de ferro, materializando, sob a forma de um movimento de câmera, o aprisionamento mútuo e a dialética rarefeita da opressão.

1. Publicado no Brasil em 1971 como Alma no Exílio.

2. Carvalho, 2005

3. Embrafilme is the main producer of Brazilian films since the company’s conception in 1969 until its implosion in 1990. Embrafilme provided a certain level of infrastructure and helped forge a new public interest in Brazilian cinema despite the fact that the market was dominated by foreign studios. However, Embrafilme’s practices were also met with criticism from filmmakers who made the accusation that they prioritized certain films while delaying the commercial release of others.

4. Rede Globo is Brazil’s largest TV network and the largest media conglomerate in Latin America.

5. Carvalho, 2005

6. Ibid.

7. Draft for a History of Black People in Brazilian Cinema, translated freely, 2005.

8. A popular street procession with song and dance that reenacts the coronation of a king in Congo.

9. A large construction in Rio de Janeiro where the samba school parades take place during Carnaval.

10. Tall vehicles designed in accordance with the theme of that year’s parade.

11. The Republic was installed on November 15th, 1889.

12. People from the Northeast of Brazil are historically subjected to prejudice from the richer regions of Brazil. Especially the South and Southeast.

13. The song was Águas de Março, which featured with new lyrics in many Coca-Cola TV spots during the 1980s.

14. Terreiros are the houses in which the Candomblé religion is practiced.

15. Published in English under the title The Masters and the Slaves.

16. Frente Negra Brasileira, or Brazilian Black Front, was the first black political party in Brazil.

17. The Revolt of the Lash (Revolta da Chibata) was a naval mutiny which took place in Rio de Janeiro in November, 1910. It was a response to the frequent whipping of black sailors by white naval officers. The Revolt was led by João Cândido Felisberto.

18. Repente is a kind of improvised poetry typical of the Northeast.

19. Teatro Experimental do Negro was a theater company founded in 1944 and ended in 1961.
REFERENCES

CARVALHO, Noel dos Santos. “Esboço para uma história do negro no cinema Brasileiro”. In: De, Jeferson. Dogma feijoada, o cinema negro brasileiro. São Paulo: Imprensa Oficial, 2005.

_____. O Produtor e Cineasta Zózimo Bulbul — O Inventor do Cinema Negro Brasileiro. Revista Crioula (USP), v. 12, p. 1-21, 2012.

DAVID, Marcell Carrasco. Abolição: escavações e memórias sobre o Cinema Negro de Zózimo Bulbul. Dissertação de Mestrado, PUC-Rio, 2020.

JAFA, Arthur. “The Notion of Treatment: Black Aesthetics and Film”. In Pearl Bowser, Jane Gaines and Charles Musser (eds.): Oscar Micheaux and His Circle, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001, pp. 11-17.