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Brazil’s General Elections: Are Culture and Film on the Agenda At All?

Brazil’s General Elections: Are Culture and Film on the Agenda At All?

Posted by Laura Zúñiga on September 29, 2014

Film producer, writer and enduring Brazil analyst Chris Pickard delivers his take on how Brazil’s general elections will affect film and TV.

 

Festival do Rio coincides this year – as it does every four years – with Brazil’s presidential election and the elections for the National Congress, state governors and state legislatures. The elections take place on Sunday, Oct. 5 and voting in Brazil is compulsory.  If none of the candidates obtains over 50% of the valid votes, a second round will be held on Oct. 26. Incumbent President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (PT) is running for re-election. But she is challenged by 11 other candidates of whom Minas Gerais Senator Aecio Neves from the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) and Marina Silva from the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) are her main rivals.

Just over a year ago, it was assumed that Rousseff’s re-election would be something of a stroll in the park for her and her party, and she would easily pass the 50% required at the first time of asking. But then came the protests. Quiet at first, but rising to a violent crescendo where it was openly discussed if Brazil would be fit to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

The protests seemed to cover every possible theme and topic, and embraced every age group and social background. They even disrupted last year’s Festival do Rio screenings at the Odeon Petrobras in Cinelandia as its location was a focal point for protestors.

Yet it could be said that this is all history, as the protests diminished and Brazil went on to host one of the most successful – some would say “the” most successful – World Cup. The president was still booed at the matches she attended, but so was FIFA president Sepp Blater. Rousseff may have been hit and wounded, and accusations of her party’s corruption and incompetence continued to grow, yet her opponents still looked far from likely to upset the apple cart or the gravy train that many of her party workers appeared to be riding.

Opinion polls gave Rousseff a comfortable lead over her main rivals, but it now started to look as if she would not get the magic 50% required in the first round, yet this would be a temporary blip as she was almost certain beat her most obvious opponent in the second round, Aecio Neves.

Yet everything changed when the original PSB candidate, Eduardo Campos, died in a plane crash in Santos on Aug. 13 The party quickly chose Marina Silva, who had been his running mate and who had run for the presidency on her own party ticket four year ago, to replace him.

The bounce in the polls was dramatic, more than any Hollywood screenwriter would dare to script, and riding a wave of emotion the PSB saw its poll ratings jump in days from less than 10% to over 33%, passing even the president’s rating. Polls also showed that if Silva and Rousseff were to face off, Silva would be a comfortable winner.

But Brazilian voting patterns are nothing if not volatile, and in recent days the concerted negative attacks on Silva by the president and her party machine has seen Rousseff re-take the lead. Yet if Silva can stop the president reaching 50%, there will still be all to play for in the head-to-head in the second round.

So what does the election mean to the film industry and culture in general?

In truth, and this would sadly be true in most of the world, culture is not very high up the pecking order when it comes to vote-changing issues. Although as veteran producer Luiz Carlos Barreto noted in O Globo, one of Rio and Brazil’s main papers: “Artists are only called to decorate the hustings during the elections, never to discuss culture.”

Globo, to its credit, did attempt to bring culture into the presidental debate by asking all the three main candidates questions on cultural issues that had been set by cultural big hitters including Barreto, actress Patricia Pillar, musician Ivan Lins, director and actor Domingos Oliveira, and the director of Porto Cine, Adailton Medeiros, among others.

What was abundantly clear from the answers was that not one of the candidates had given much weight or thought to cultural issues, with the answers being penned by their political advisers and spin-doctors.

Sadly, none of the candidates gave a clear answer to the questions, and almost went out of their way not to commit to any concrete proposals for the development of the cultural sector. As Barreto noted: “The answers were conventional, without any new vision as how to formulate public policy for all the different strands of culture. The ideas and visions were very general.”

If you could spot a trend in the replies it was that the current president thinks she and her government have been doing a great job, so don’t really need to change their position; Silva placed culture in with education, so issues were viewed for their educational impact rather than cultural or financial impact; while Neves said he would like to see a more private-public business partnership in developing Brazil’s cultural sector.

It is unlikely that any party has won or lost votes on its cultural positioning, but voters may have noted that the artistic community that once flocked to support the ruling PT when Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was its charismatic leader and president, have been shifting to support Silva.

The most vocal, not surprisingly, are the more successful artists that don’t need to go cap in hand to the government for support and funding. Highly respected musician Caetano Veloso has been very vocal in his support for Silva, explaining to the public and his 1.5 million Facebook followers why he thinks it is time for a change with a vote for Silva.

The most surprising switch of allegiance – and potentially more damaging – has been that of Veloso’s fellow musician and friend, Gilberto Gil, who was Lula’s high profile Minister of Culture. He too has switched to Silva and has even written a campaign song for her.

The public support of cultural figures may not influence the outcome of the first round of voting on 5 October  (although a week out from election it was estimated that as many as 20% may still be undecided), but it could make a real difference in the run up to the second round on 26 October. Especially if they are willing to share the hustings with Silva and become even more vocal in their criticism of the existing government.

Another prominant supporter of Silva is the film director Fernando Meirelles (“City of God”) who is promising to bring his very considerable marketing clout and experience to the electoral party and produce some promotional spots for the second round when Silva would have equal air time on television with Rousseff.

Ex-president Lula, who hand picked Rousseff to succeed him, can be only too aware that it was a Meirelles short promotional film that helped swing the vote for Rio to host the 2016 Olympics, and beat other cities that had appeared to be the clear front runners.

On a more local front, the Brazilian film industry is probably quietly pleased to see the current governor of Rio, Luiz Fernandes do Pezao of the PMDB, recovering in the polls and looking well placed to win at the second round of voting for governor of the state of Rio. His predecessor, Sergio Cabral, was recognized as having done a lot for the city and state, in term of both the World Cup and Olympics, and security, but was dragged down by a number of scandals that resulted in various measures and funding to support the film industry, including the Marca RJ announced in Cannes, never coming to fruition. There will be hope that some of these support mechanisms and funding will be reinstated should Pezao win the election.

Overall, filmmakers in Rio can look forward to two years of relative stability, as that is how long the current mayor, Eduardo Paes, has left in office. It is the mayor that funds RioFilme and the Rio Film Commisssion, and makes Festival do Rio possible.

Ironically, there were political protests again at the opening of this year’s Festival do Rio, but all fairly good-natured. The protest was by filmmakers who are accusing the mayor and governor’s office of only supporting commercially interesting projects rather than artistically driven projects that have little chance of making their money back.

An argument that will be familiar in many countries, yet Brazilian filmmakers may have to re-think their position as in 2013 a healthy 120 Brazilian films were made and released, yet less than 20 found an audience of any note to help the domestic share of the box office creep above 18% of tickets sold. It is unsustainable, especially to politicians, to fund so many films that fail to find an audience.

While non-Brazilians filmmakers who deal with Brazil will watch the elections with interest, their main wish, regardless of who wins, will be to see less bureaucracy in Brazil and clearer rules and transparency when it come to the taxation levied on film projects on a municipal, state and federal level. Many foreign producers have been caught out in the past 18 months by extra taxes asked for by Brazilian production companies and partners on costs that were not included in the original budgets.

Brazil needs to simplify the filmmaking process and the time it takes to process funding requests if it wants to attract more production and to benefit from the exposure the country received during the World Cup and will again in 2016 with the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The question now is if the next president or governor of Rio will show more interest in culture and filmmaking when in office, than during their campaigns.

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