University of São Paulo: Cinemateca Brasileira is the subject of a documentary by USP students

On July 29, 2021, a fire hit a shed of the Cinemateca Brasileira in Vila Leopoldina, west of São Paulo. But it was not an isolated event. The place has already suffered from flooding, lack of employees, budget cuts in 2020 and the closure for a year and three months. The disregard for the institution responsible for the preservation of Brazilian audiovisual production directly affects the memory and culture of society. The public has access to this and other reflections when watching Memórias de Nitrato (2021), a documentary made by students of the Journalism course at USP’s School of Communications and Arts (ECA) for the Documentary discipline, guided by Professor Renato Levi. In this film, which is 32 minutes long and is available for free on the Youtube platform, the viewer has the opportunity to learn more about the history of the institution, hear reports from workers and researchers and understand the origins of the crisis that is ravaging the fifth largest cinematheque in the world.

In addition to the Cinemateca turning 75 years old in 2021 and having resisted two fires in less than five years, Caroline Aragaki, one of those responsible for the production of the documentary, suggested the theme for the graduation work also because she did not understand exactly how the event occurred. Cinemateca closing in August 2020: “Was it because of the pandemic or was there another reason?”. The student said that other cultural institutions had already been reopened to the public at the time of the documentary’s production, except for the Cinemateca. So, Caroline made the proposal to her groupmates to investigate the carelessness before one of the largest cultural representations in Brazil.

Yasmin Caetano, one of the members of the group in the making of the film, says that the objective of Memórias de Nitratoit was to listen to the employees and people who were involved with Cinemateca Brasileira, in order to understand the institution’s crisis and what were the reasons that led to this situation. Carlos Augusto Calil, professor at ECA and former director of Cinemateca between 1987 and 1992, Eloá Chouzal, audiovisual researcher and member of the Cinemateca Acesa collective, Maria Dora Mourão, also professor at ECA, executive director of Sociedade Amigos da Cinemateca and elected director -general of Cinemateca, were some of those interviewed for the making of the documentary. “We chose the theme thinking about giving voice to the stories of the filmmakers, the screenwriters, to all the people directly or indirectly involved with the Cinematheque and highlighting its importance not only for our audiovisual, but for our entire culture”, comments Laura. Happy, another of the students who participated in the production of the film. GabrielleTorquato, another member of the group, adds: “The intention was to offer visibility to the injustices that have been happening at Cinemateca. It’s a situation like that: ‘if you’re not outraged, it’s because you’re misinformed’”.


For Caroline, Cinemateca is an example of how the Brazilian State takes care of culture. “It’s an illustration about something bigger, and I wanted that to get across. In the documentary, the sources point out that there were promises of reopening the Cinemateca soon, since it was closed, in August 2020, but it was only after the last fire in the annex to the collection, in July 2021, that the public notice to see who would take over the management has been published.”

Regarding the development of the documentary, between the months of September and December of last year, the students describe that they did a pre-assessment, mainly with newspaper articles, and pre-interviews with the sources to elaborate the script of questions with more precision. at the time of filming. Due to the pandemic, few interviews were conducted in person and most were done in virtual format. In this production process, the students sought information from people who worked on different fronts of the Cinematheque, with different reports, but which complement each other. “Each interviewee had such good stories, such valid ones, but that would not fit in a single film, so these choices of what to tell and how to tell it required a lot of creativity and flexibility to build a cohesive narrative”,

Gabrielle points out that, during the interviews, it was possible to see the emotion of those who spoke about the wealth of documents, films and images that are stored there. “The most curious thing for me was discovering that, even for the people who worked there for years, the collection is still a box of surprises. There is still a lot to be discovered, to be analyzed, to be studied”, says the student. One aspect that caught Caroline’s attention was that, throughout the process of making the film, new contours emerged that she had not imagined and that were only possible due to all the investigation work they did together.


Some scenes in the documentary portray a demonstration against the crisis of the Cinemateca Brasileira, on October 23, 2021. Gabrielle comments that she expected a greater mobilization because of the importance of the institution, with materials and infrastructure at risk. “I believe that this day is a reflection of how art is still not accessible to everyone. It would be a victory if the documentary could awaken this reflection in the public. Why doesn’t the preservation of an institution with such an important collection cause greater commotion?”, asks Gabrielle.

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