About a month ago, the political documentary “Democracia em Vertigem” (Democracy in Vertigo), by Petra Costa, was released on the digital streaming platform Netflix. Making use of the director’s own experiences, the film analyses Brazilian politics in recent years, culminating in the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff and the subsequent political crisis the country is experiencing. The reception abroad was very positive, being even classified by The New York Times as one of the best films of the year, and tipped by specialist media as a favourite for an Oscar in the documentary category. In Brazil, the debate became quite polarized, and is still much discussed mainly on social networks.
This was not the only documentary that sparked debates about local issues. Here are 5 recommendations of great Brazilian documentaries for you to watch.
Lixo Extraordinário (Waste Land – 99 min, 2010)
The idea of the documentary was to show the work of Brazilian plastic artist Vik Muniz. The artist is known internationally for using unusual techniques and materials in his works of art such as food, building materials and recyclable products. When English director Lucy Walker arrived in Brazil for the recordings, Muniz was working on a series of photos about trash and landfill at Jardim Gramacho in Duque de Caxias, Rio de Janeiro. Jardim Gramacho, decommissioned in 2012, is the largest landfill site in Latin America, and at that time, served as a source of income for more than 1,600 collectors. Vik Muniz photographed a group of seven collectors, and then, using the recyclable garbage collected by these people, turned the photos into gigantic works of art.
Throughout the two years of recording, the direction of the documentary changed as the artist created ties with the pickers who worked at the sitel. The initial proposal to show the artist’s creation process from the waste found in the landfill became a means of denouncing the social and environmental problems, and the hard working conditions of people who depend on garbage to survive.
The documentary “Lixo Extraordinário” (Waste Land), was directed by Lucy Walker and by Brazilians João Jardim and Karen Harley. In 2010, it won the audience award for world cinema documentary at the Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals in the festivals of Sundance and Berlin (here it also received an award from Amnesty International), and was nominated for best documentary at the 2011 Academy Awards.
Quebrando o Tabu (Breaking the Taboo – 58 min, 2011)
The controversial documentary proposed a debate about the decriminalisation of drug use and the ineffectiveness of the war against drugs adopted in the country. The film begins its discussion based on the United States’ 40-year-old decision to encourage countries to adopt a repressive approach to fighting drugs. Based on that, it shows the historical relations between man and drugs, the results of the repression, the role of trafficking in this context, the misinformation that is popularly held to be truthful, the lack of information, and the new measures adopted by some countries where drug users are treated as a public health issue rather than criminals. The main voice of the documentary is former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who through more than 170 interviews (among them politicians like Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, health professionals, personalities like Paulo Coelho, ex-traffickers and former users) and trips to Mexico, Switzerland, Portugal, the Netherlands and the United States discusses all these issues.
O Renascimento do Parto (The Birth Reborn – 90 min, 2018)
The documentary “O Renascimento do Parto” (The Birth Reborn) discusses the reality of obstetrics in Brazil, where 52% of deliveries are by cesarean sections, and the recommended rate by the WHO is between 10 and 15%. These numbers are even more frightening in the private system, where 85% of pregnant women give birth by surgical means. Concerned about this scenario, the couple Eduardo Chauvet and Érica de Paula, who is a doula (labour-support professional), traveled for two years in Brazil to collect interviews and stories from mothers, doctors, anthropologists, midwives and public managers.
Through these interviews they try to demystify and rescue the importance of normal birth and to point out and discuss the risks and losses that mother and children face in a cesarean, as well as the justifications without scientific support used to encourage women to decide in its favour. One of the highlights is the interview with the famous French doctor Michel Odent, a great supporter of natural childbirth. According to him, in very specific conditions during labour the woman releases a cocktail of “love hormones” that will be fundamental throughout the life of the child. Based on this he asks us: “what will happen to humanity since these children no longer receive this cocktail?”.
The independent documentary ended 2013 as the second highest grossing documentary film in the country.
Criança, A Alma do Negócio (Child, the soul of business – 50 min, 2008)
The central debate of the documentary is the great power that mass media and advertising have to influence children’s buying habits. The industry has realised that children are easy to be swayed and at the same time are very influential in their homes, and because of that they are a great target for advertisements. Furthermore, these children are going to be the consumers of the future, hence brands are looking to groom favourable opinions from an early age.
Through discussions with children, parents and specialists, the debate about children’s advertising and its potential negative consequences on child development is explored in further detail. Produced by the Alana Institute, dedicated to the protection of children, the documentary invites the viewer to think about his role in this scenario, and take action to change that.
Ilha das Flores (Isle of Flowers – 13 min, 1989)
In just 13 minutes the documentary moves the viewer by showing the unequal relations in the capitalist system through the trajectory of a simple tomato. The tomato is planted, bought, discarded, arrives at the garbage dump at Flores Island, near Porto Alegre. There, the tomato is disputed over by hungry children after being rejected by pigs. Jorge Furtado’s commentary makes a strong criticism of social inequality, and even after 30 years of its launch, it can be quite current.
“Ilha das Flores” (Isle of Flowers) won the Silver Bear award for short film at the Berlin Film Festival in 1990, and this year was elected the best Brazilian short film of all time by the Brazilian Association of Film Critics (Abraccine).