Fire is a consequence of the Bolsonaro government's contempt for culture
São Paulo – A fire hit the shed of the Cinemateca Brasileira in Vila Leopoldina, west of São Paulo, in the early evening of this Thursday (29). The place houses part of the institution's collection, consisting of more than 100 years of history of the largest audiovisual collection in Latin America, in about 250 thousand rolls of films. According to the commander of the Fire Department, the intensity of the flames and the density of the smoke indicated the presence of highly flammable materials. Eleven vehicles were sent. The fire was controlled around 19:00.
The Fire Department estimates that around 400 square meters of the shed were caught in the flames. It is still not possible to know what was burned and what was saved. The partially burned building is not the main headquarters of the Cinemateca, which is located in Vila Clementino, in the south of São Paulo. However, the warehouse houses an important part of the collection, in copies for display, not the original rolls, which are located else.
the collection of Programadora Brasil – an initiative of the former Ministry of Culture for displaying content on non-commercial circuits – is also kept there. In addition to these items, museum equipment, such as old projectors, and documents, including four tons of files on public policies for the audiovisual, recently transferred Rio de Janeiro were also stored in the shed. The archives also include documentation Embrafilme, the National Institute of Cinema and the National Council of Cinema.
In July 2020, the Federal Public Ministry in São Paulo (MPF-SP) filed a lawsuit against the Union for abandoning the Cinemateca. The prosecution questioned the lack of a contract for the institution's management and highlights problems such as the risk of fire, lack of surveillance, delays in water and electricity bills, and wages. Last August, the dismantling and weakening of the institution by the Bolsonaro government advanced, with the announcement of dismissals of the institution's technical staff.
However, last May, the MPF-SP suspended the action against the Union after the federal government pledged to show the actions implemented for the preservation of heritage within a period of up to 45 days, which has not yet occurred. The care of maintenance and preservation of the collection is carried out by a highly specialized workforce. In successive reports, the RBA warned that, without a trained technical body, all the national memory stored there was in serious danger of disappearing.
:: Bolsonaro government advances in dismantling the Cinemateca Brasileira
The site was already hit by fire in 2016. At the time, around 500 works were destroyed. Last year, a storm flooded the shed and part of the collection was again compromised.
The space, which was once considered the fifth cinematheque in the world, is the first place of contact with cinema for many children public schools. It also contains, among other treasures of national culture, the entire collection of letters, films and scripts by Bahian filmmaker Glauber Rocha. There are 44 thousand titles of cinematographic works, including short, medium and feature films. The collection holds recordings of decades of Brazilian television programs, records of football matches (Channel 100) and advertising films.
The Bolsonaro government gave the first signs that it planned to dismantle the institution and showed contempt for its collection at the end of 2019. At the time, the then Minister of Education, Abraham Weintraub, decided to unilaterally break the institution's contract with the Associação Foundation of Educational Communication Roquette Pinto (Acerp), who managed the Cinemateca. To justify the break, he used inconsistent arguments such as “fighting indoctrination and cultural Marxism”, among others. The former minister even expelled Acerp workers the ministry's headquarters.
Already in May of last year, new signs of abandonment. After three months of disastrous management and successive episodes of incompetence and clash with all sectors of cultural production in the country, the then Special Secretary for Culture, actress Regina Duarte, was fired. As compensation, the president promised him the direction of the Cinemateca, but the exchange did not materialize.
The following June, Cinemateca workers had a 24-hour stoppage to draw society's attention. Despite the pandemic, now reaching the height of the so-called first wave, they had to deal with delays in wages, deteriorating working conditions and the constant threat of layoffs. But, above all, they warned that the lack of a preservation and maintenance policy put the institution's entire collection and the history of Brazilian audiovisual at risk.
At the end of that month, the outsourced company contracted for the maintenance of the air conditioners necessary for film conservation ceased to provide service and the fire brigade disbanded.
In July, after completing seven consecutive months without the Cinemateca administrator receiving a single cent of funds the federal government, workers, artists and researchers made a symbolic “hug” around the headquarters. “To maintain the survival of these images, the Cinemateca needs its employees, it needs electricity to keep the negatives, the nitrates, which combust very quickly”, warned filmmaker Tata Amaral.
After the mobilization of workers, the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) and the city of São Paulo decided to join the fight to recover and maintain the space. The MPF filed a lawsuit against the Union for abandoning the Cinemateca, demanding emergency care. The City Hall and the City Council of São Paulo intervened and emergency funds were transferred, as a donation, to the Cinemateca to pay basic expenses.
The action displeased the federal government. That was when the replacement for Regina Duarte and current Special Secretary for Culture, former actor Mário Frias, entered the scene. He anticipated that he would even take the keys to the headquarters of the Cinemateca Brasileira and maintained his refusal to transfer funds to the institution.
In addition, he announced that the entire collection would be transferred São Paulo to Brasília. In a new mobilization, workers and representatives of the sector denounced the risk of rigging the institution.
Alerted that it was about to decree an illegal measure, the government withdrew the transfer but, in August, it took definitive control of the Cinemateca. In an overt and intimidating action, an emissary Frias, accompanied by heavily armed members of the Federal Police and the Metropolitan Civil Guard, led an intervention operation. With this, he removed the control of the institution of the Association of Educational Communication Roquette Pinto, which still managed the property, despite, at that point, reaching eight months without receiving the contracted transfers.
Days later, the layoffs of all technical staff were announced. “The Cinemateca is the main institution for preserving the memory of Brazilian cinema. All 41 employees were fired! They are highly specialized technicians in preservation who have been working there for decades. Bolsonaro wants a country without memory, without culture, without education”, denounced federal deputy Alice Portugal (PCdoB-BA).
In April of this year, representatives of workers at the Cinemateca Brasileira once again mobilized and released a letter denouncing once again the bad management of the space. They reaffirmed the warning that the largest audiovisual collection in Latin America was running ever more real risks.
After successive onslaughts by President Jair Bolsonaro's government against the institution, further increasing the imminence of tragedy, today's fire confirms the institution's neglect and project of destruction.