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Bolsonaro Threatens Brazil’s Central Film Fund with Censorship or Closure

John Hopewell

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In typical shoot-from-the-hip remarks, Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has declared that Ancine, Brazil’s powerful state-backed federal film agency, should accept “filters”or face closure.

“If it can’t have a filter, we’ll close Ancine, or privatize it,” Bolsonaro added, attacking Ancine, which plows some $300 million a year into Brazil’s film and TV industries, for supporting “pornography” – in a reference to its co-financing of “Bruna Surfistinha,” a drama about a young middle-class Rio call girl.

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Talking on Thursday, Bolsonaro was not clear about what he meant by a filter but did present his own vision of what Brazilian movie production should focus on: “Brazilian heroes.”

“We have so many heroes in Brazil and people don’t talk about them,” the president argued. “We must preserve their memory, show the worth of those people who in the past gave their lives, battled for Brazil to be independent or democratic with a future which belongs to everybody.”

The Brazilian president also confirmed that Ancine’s officers will be transferred from Rio de Janeiro to Brazilian capital Brazilia

His words were met with a mix of disbelief, disdain and what looks like across the board opposition by Brazil’s film industry which accused him of opening the door to censorship.

“I just can’t give credit to this in a democratic country in  2019,” said Leonardo Edde, president of Brazil’s Audiovisual Industry Union (Sicav).

If it happens, Edde went on, it would suggest that Brazil was no longer a democratic country.

“I don’t know what kind of filter president Bolsonaro is referring to,” director-writer-producer José Padilha (“Narcos,” “Robocop,” “Elite Squad”) also told Globo’s Jornal Nacional.

He added: “If it’s ideological, that’s a return to censorship for Brazilian cinema. As for the threat to close Ancine, I’m not surprised. Trump has sabotaged all the U.S. agencies, beginning with those dedicated to science, environmental issues and the fight against global warming. As Forrest Gump says: ‘Stupid is as stupid does.’”

Bolsonaro’s words underscore the huge gulf in value systems between much of his government and Brazil’s film and TV industries.

They also come just two months after this year’s Cannes Festival where Brazil had seven Brazilian nationality titles selected, making it Cannes’ fourth biggest national cinema presence, after France (46 productions), the U.S. (11) and Belgium (9). “Bacurau,” directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho, went on to win the Cannes competition Jury Prize, and Karim Aïnouz’s “Invisible Life” the top prize at Cannes Un Certain Regard. Switzerland’s Locarno Festival, Europe’s biggest mid-Summer film event, has just selected four Brazilian films, Mendonça Filho pointed out in a tweet.

One large question is how easy Bolsonaro’s government might find it to close Ancine. Both congress and Brazil’s Supreme Court have pushed back on some of Bolsonaro’s most controversial positions – respectively his directive to free up gun control, and homophobia – Brazil’s Supreme Court recently criminalizing the latter.

Just last week, Bolsonaro’s government transferred Brazil’s Superior Cinema Council – which dictates filma and TV policy and incentives adjudicated by the Fundo Setorial do Audiovisual (FSA), Brazil’s biggest film.TV fund – from the Citizenship Ministry, which groups sports and culture, to the Casa Civil, a kind of chief of staff’s office which has ministerial status.

“Bolsonaro cannot, by law, simply close down a public agency such as Ancine without huge constitutional change that would require unachievable consensus in congress,” said Felipe Braga, showrunner on Netflix half-hour “Samantha.” “So his main strategy is to ‘dehydrate’ the public structures that promotes film, such as Ancine and film committees,” he added, citing the Superior Cinema Council.

The President’s problem, however, Braga added, is that he “cannot keep his mouth shut.” His opposition to public financing for “Bruna Surfistinha,” confirms that he would like to use ideological/religious parameters to authorize public funding for specific projects, Braga argued.

For Braga, “that’s where there’s an opportunity to fight Bolsonaro — especially in upper courts of justice.”

Continuing uncertainty about the future of film funding will, however  merely accelerate a move by major film companies in Brazil to produce ever more for its platforms, national or international, established or to come, which are launching ever bolder plays for subscribers in Latin America’s biggest economy.

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