Cinema of Brazil
Brazilian cinema was introduced early in the 20th century but took some time to consolidate itself as a popular form of entertainment. The film industry of Brazil has gone through periods of ups and downs, a reflection of its dependency on State funding and incentives.

Early days

A couple of months after the Lumière brothers' invention, a film exhibition is held in Rio de Janeiro. As early as 1898, the Italian Alfonso Segreto supposedly filmed the Guanabara Bay
Guanabara Bay
Guanabara Bay is an oceanic bay located in southeastern Brazil in the state of Rio de Janeiro. On its western shore lies the city of Rio de Janeiro, and on its eastern shore the cities of Niterói and São Gonçalo. Four other municipalities surround the bay's shores...

 from the ship Brésil on a return journey from Europe, though some researchers question the veracity of this event as no copy of the film remains. He would go on to make documentaries with his brother Paschoal Segreto. An ad of a May 1987 issue of Gazeta de Petrópolis, as shown in 1995 by Jorge Vittorio Capellaro and Paulo Roberto Ferreira, was introduced as the new "birth certificate" of Brazilian cinema, as three short films were advertised: Chegada do Trem em Petrópolis, Bailado de Crenças no Colégio de Andarahy and Ponto Terminal da Linha dos Bondes de Botafogo, Vendo-se os Passageiros Subir e Descer.

During this "belle-epoque" of Brazilian cinema, when black and white silent films were less costly to produce, most work resulted from the effort of passionate individuals willing to take on the task themselves rather than commercial enterprises. Neither is much attention given by the state, with legislation for the sector being practically nonexistent.

Film theaters only become larger in number in Rio and São Paulo late in the following decade, as power supply becomes more reliable. Foreign films as well as short films documenting local events were most common. Some of the first fictional work filmed in the country were the so-called "posed" films, reconstitutions of crimes that had recently made the press headlines. The first success of this genre is Francisco Marzullo's Os Estranguladores (1906). "Sung" films were also popular. The actors would hide behind the screen and dub themselves singing during projection. During the 1920s film production flourished throughout several regions of the country: Recife
Recife is the fifth-largest metropolitan area in Brazil with 4,136,506 inhabitants, the largest metropolitan area of the North/Northeast Regions, the 5th-largest metropolitan influence area in Brazil, and the capital and largest city of the state of Pernambuco. The population of the city proper...

, Campinas
Campinas is a city and municipality located in the coastal interior of the state of São Paulo, Brazil. is the administrative center of the meso-region of the same name, with 3,783,597 inhabitants as of the 2010 Census, consisting of 49 cities....

, Cataguases
Cataguases is a city located in the southeastern part of the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil. It is mainly an industrial centre with a strong influence of coffee plantation in its early history . The population was estimated at about 62,000 inhabitants in 1996 and is expected to be at about 66,000...

 and Guaranésia
Guaranésia is a Brazilian municipality located in the southwest of the state of Minas Gerais. Its population as of 2007 was 18,649 people living in a total area of 294 km². The city belongs to the meso-region of Sul e Sudoeste de Minas and to the micro-region of São Sebastião do Paraíso. It...


1930s and '40s

Mário Peixoto
Mario Peixoto
Mário Rodrigues Breves Peixoto was mainly known for his first and only film Limite, a silent experimental film filmed in 1930 and premiered in Rio de Janeiro on 17 May 1931. Peixoto wrote, directed and took up a minor role in the film...

's Limite
Limite (film)
Limite is a film by Brazilian director and writer Mario Peixoto , filmed in 1930 and first screened in 1931.Sometimes cited as the greatest of all Brazilian films, this 120-minute silent experimental feature by novelist Peixoto, who never completed another film, was seen by Orson Welles and won the...

(1930) was poorly received by audiences but eventually regarded as masterpiece of the silent film era, along with Humberto Mauro
Humberto Mauro
Humberto Duarte Mauro was a Brazilian film director. His best known work is Ganga Bruta. He is often considered the greatest director of early Brazilian cinema.-Career:...

's Ganga Bruta (1933). Cinédia was founded by Adhemar Gonzaga in 1930 and was dedicated to the production of popular dramas and burlesque musical comedies, a genre which was negatively referred to as chanchada
Chanchada is the name of a genre of Brazilian comedies, often musical. Its name , coming from the Paraguayan Spanish slang and meaning "mess", "trash", "trick", implied the ease in accessibility of these films' content to a culturally deprived audience.In 1935, the company Cinédia of Rio de...

. The chanchada would often include satires of Hollywood movies.

Actress Carmen Miranda
Carmen Miranda
Carmen Miranda, GCIH was a Portuguese-born Brazilian samba singer, Broadway actress and Hollywood film star popular in the 1940s and 1950s. She was, by some accounts, the highest-earning woman in the United States and noted for her signature fruit hat outfit she wore in the 1943 movie The Gang's...

 gained visibility overseas. In 1946, Gilda de Abreu's O Ébrio, a film very much representative of typical Latin melodrama
The term melodrama refers to a dramatic work that exaggerates plot and characters in order to appeal to the emotions. It may also refer to the genre which includes such works, or to language, behavior, or events which resemble them...

, became a major hit and drew in around four million viewers. President Getúlio Vargas
Getúlio Vargas
Getúlio Dornelles Vargas served as President of Brazil, first as dictator, from 1930 to 1945, and in a democratically elected term from 1951 until his suicide in 1954. Vargas led Brazil for 18 years, the most for any President, and second in Brazilian history to Emperor Pedro II...

 became aware of film's growth and, in 1939, created a decree
A decree is a rule of law issued by a head of state , according to certain procedures . It has the force of law...

 that guaranteed Brazilian films an exhibition quota in film theaters, a law which still exists, though it is now largely ignored due to lack of proper control. While Varga's decree may be seen as a positive or nationalistic measure, it has also been interpreted as a means of state control and intervention.


During the 40's and 50's, films produced by the Atlântida Cinematográfica peaked and attracted large audiences by continuing with chanchadas. Among the actors that became strongly associated with Atlântida who had previously worked in Cinédia films are Oscarito
Oscarito was the stage name of Brazilian actor and comedian Oscar Lorenzo Jacinto de la Imaculada Concepción Teresa Diaz. Oscarito was born to a family of circus comedians. His first film was Voz do Carnaval , which also featured Carmen Miranda. He became a sought actor for chanchadas...

, a comedian somewhat reminiscent of a Harpo Marx
Harpo Marx
Adolph "Harpo" Marx was an American comedian and film star. He was the second oldest of the Marx Brothers. His comic style was influenced by clown and pantomime traditions. He wore a curly reddish wig, and never spoke during performances...

 and commonly cast as lead, and Grande Otelo
Grande Otelo
Grande Otelo is the stage name of Brazilian actor, comedian, singer, and composer Sebastião Bernardes de Souza Prata...

, who usually had a smaller supporting role and is often Oscarito's sidekick. José Lewgoy
José Lewgoy
José Lewgoy was an American-Brazilian television, film and theatre actor.He was born in Veranópolis, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, to a Russian father and an American mother, who met in New York. He died in Rio de Janeiro. He was considered one of the best actors in Brazil, and was usually typecast...

 was commonly cast as a villain while Zézé Macedo often took on the role of the undesired, nagging wife.

The films of this period have often been brushed aside as being overly commercial and americanized, though by the seventies a certain amount of revisionism sought to restore its legitimacy. Despite being overlooked by intellectual elites, these films attracted large audiences as none of the Cinema Novo films would achieve. Today, the telenovela
A telenovela is a limited-run serial dramatic programming popular in Latin American, Portuguese, and Spanish television programming. The word combines tele, short for televisión or televisão , and novela, a Spanish or Portuguese word for "novel"...

, especially the "novela das sete" (a nickname given to soap operas produced by the Rede Globo
Rede Globo
Rede Globo , or simply Globo, is a Brazilian television network, launched by media mogul Roberto Marinho on April 26, 1965. It is owned by media conglomerate Organizações Globo, being by far the largest of its holdings...

 channel aired around seven p.m. Mondays through Saturdays) is sometimes identified as carrying on the spirit of the chanchada. Many of the films produced by the company have been lost throughout the years due to fire and flooding of its storage facilities.

Vera Cruz

The Cinematográfica Vera Cruz is a production company founded during the forties and most notable for its output during the following decade. It is in this period that Lima Barreto's classic O Cangaceiro is produced. The movement was named after a large production studio. American genre films were popular in Brazil and filmmakers began emulating them. The western and the detective film were particularly popular. The desire to create American-esque films led to the creation of large scale Hollywood style studios. These films were highly commercialized, which led some directors to begin experimenting with independent cinema. This movement away from commercialized Vera Cruz style films came to be called Cinema Novo, or New Cinema. Vera Cruz eventually bankrupted and closed.

Cinema Novo

The Italian Neorealism
Italian neorealism
Italian neorealism is a style of film characterized by stories set amongst the poor and working class, filmed on location, frequently using nonprofessional actors...

 followed later in the sixties by the French New Wave
French New Wave
The New Wave was a blanket term coined by critics for a group of French filmmakers of the late 1950s and 1960s, influenced by Italian Neorealism and classical Hollywood cinema. Although never a formally organized movement, the New Wave filmmakers were linked by their self-conscious rejection of...

 (or Nouvelle Vague) fueled a new kind of modernistic and experimental cinema across the globe. In Brazil, this tendency was carried out by its own new wave movement, the Cinema Novo
Cinema Novo
Cinema Novo was practised by Brazilian filmmakers in the 1950s and 1960s. In Portugal, Novo Cinema flourished after the 1960s, where it lasted, inspired by Italian Neo-Realism and the French movement of the New wave, the direct cinema techniques, and by the ideals the Carnation Revolution up to...

. Glauber Rocha, a very political filmmaker from Bahia
Bahia is one of the 26 states of Brazil, and is located in the northeastern part of the country on the Atlantic coast. It is the fourth most populous Brazilian state after São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro, and the fifth-largest in size...

, quickly became the most notable director, often held as "leader" of the movement. His work possesses many allegorical elements, strong political critique and an impeccable mise-en-scène that were readily embraced by intellectuals.

Rocha often spoke of his films as being a departure from what he considered to be the colonizer's view, to whom poverty was an exotic and distant reality, as well as the colonized who regarded their third world status as shameful. He sought to portray misery, hunger and the violence they generate and thus suggest the need for a revolution. Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol
Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol
Black God, White Devil is a 1964 Brazilian film directed and written by Glauber Rocha. The film stars Othon Bastos, Maurício do Valle, Yoná Magalhães, and Geraldo Del Rey. It belongs to the Cinema Novo movement, addressing the socio-political problems of 1960s Brazil...

and Terra em Transe are some of his most famous works.

Other key directors of the movement include Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Ruy Guerra
Ruy Guerra
Ruy Alexandre Guerra Coelho Pereira is a film director, screenwriter, film editor, and actor in Brazil. Guerra was born a Portuguese citizen in Lourenço Marques in Moçambique, when it was still a colony of Portugal....

 and Carlos Diegues
Carlos Diegues
Carlos Diegues, also known as Cacá Diegues, is a Brazilian film director. He is best known as a member of the Cinema Novo movement.-Filmography:* 2010 O Grande Circo Místico...

. Freedom to express political views becomes scarce as the 1964 Brazilian coup d'état takes place and repression increases over the following years, forcing many of these artists into exile.

B Films

A "marginal cinema" emerges associated with the Boca de Lixo
Mouth of Garbage Cinema
Garbage Mouth film is the collective name for a film genre associated with the Boca do Lixo area of São Paulo, Brazil. On par with Italian giallo and American slasher films, films of this genre are exploitational and often considered B movies...

 area in São Paulo. In 1968, Rogério Sganzerla releases O Bandido da Luz Vermelha, a story based on an infamous criminal of the period. The following year Júlio Bressane's Killed the Family and Went to the Movies
Killed the Family and Went to the Movies (1969 film)
Matou a Família e Foi ao Cinema is a Brazilian film directed by Júlio Bressane and released in 1969.This is quite an innovative movie, in which the protagonist – after doing what the title says – watches four short sketches of other movies with varied plots, including one about rape...

(Matou a família e foi ao cinema) comes out, a story in which the protagonist does exactly what is described by the title. Marginal cinema of this period is sometimes also referred to as "udigrudi", a mocking of the English word underground
Underground film
An underground film is a film that is out of the mainstream either in its style, genre, or financing.-Definition and history:The first use of the term "underground film" occurs in a 1957 essay by American film critic Manny Farber, "Underground Films." Farber uses it to refer to the work of...

. Also popular was Zé do Caixão
Zé do Caixão
José Mojica Marins is a Brazilian filmmaker, actor, screenwriter, and television and media personality. Marins is also known by his alter ego Coffin Joe . Although Marins is known primarily as a horror film director, his earlier works were Westerns, dramas and adventure films...

, the screen alter ego of actor and horror film director José Mojica Marins.

Associated with the genre is also the pornochanchada
Pornochanchada is the name given to a genre of sexploitation films produced in Brazil that was popular during the 1970s and early 1980s. Its name combined pornô and chanchada ....

, a popular genre in the 1970s. As the name suggests, these were sex comedies, though they did not depict sex explicitly. One key factor as to why these marginal films thrived was that film theaters were obliged to obey quotas for national films. Many owners of such establishments would finance low budget films, including those of pornographic content. Though the country was under dictatorship, censorship
thumb|[[Book burning]] following the [[1973 Chilean coup d'état|1973 coup]] that installed the [[Military government of Chile |Pinochet regime]] in Chile...

 tended to be more political than cultural. That these films thrived could be perceived by many as a cause of embarrassment, yet they managed to draw in enough audiences so as to stay on the market consistently throughout those years.

1970s and '80s

Films in this period benefited from state-run agencies, most notably Embrafilme. Its role was perceived as somewhat ambiguous. It was criticized for its dubious selection criteria, bureaucracy and favouritism, and was seen as a form of government control over artistic production. On the other hand, much of the work of this period was produced mainly because of its existence.

A varied and memorable filmography was produced, including Arnaldo Jabor's adaptation of Nelson Rodrigues
Nélson Rodrigues
Nelson Falcão Rodrigues was a Brazilian playwright, journalist and novelist. In 1943, he helped usher in a new era in Brazilian theater with his play Vestido de Noiva , considered revolutionary for the complex exploration of its characters' psychology and its use of colloquial dialog...

' Toda Nudez será Castigada (1973), Cacá Diegues' Bye Bye Brasil
Bye Bye Brasil
Bye Bye Brasil is a Brazilian, French, and Argentine 1979 film, directed by Carlos Diegues. The film enjoyed critical success and was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival.-Plot:...

(1979), Hector Babenco
Hector Babenco
Héctor Eduardo Babenco is an Argentine-born Brazilian film director, screenwriter, producer and actor.He has worked in several countries including Argentina, Brazil and the United States....

's Pixote
Pixote: a Lei do Mais Fraco , is a Brazilian drama film directed by Hector Babenco. The screenplay was written by Babenco and Jorge Durán, based on the book A infância dos mortos by José Louzeiro....

(1981) and Nelson Pereira do Santos' Memórias do Cárcere (1984). One of the most successful films in Brazilian film history is an adaptation of Jorge Amado's Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands is a 1976 comedy film directed by Bruno Barreto. Based on the novel of the same name by Jorge Amado, it takes place in 1940s Bahia. It stars Sônia Braga, José Wilker, and Mauro Mendonça in the leading roles...

(1976) by Bruno Barreto
Bruno Barreto
Bruno Barreto is a Brazilian film director born in Rio de Janeiro. He has been making feature-length films ever since he was seventeen years old and remains one of Brazil’s most accomplished and popular directors to this day...


A peak in the number of film theaters is reached in 1975, when 3,276 projection rooms were in existence. Brazilian films sold a total of 275.4 million tickets the same year.

Retomada and contemporary cinema

The early nineties, under the Collor government, saw a significant decrease in State funding that lead to a practical halt in film production and the closing of Embrafilme in 1989. However, in the mid nineties the country witnessed a new burst in cinematic production, mainly thanks to the introduction of incentive laws under the new FHC
Fernando Henrique Cardoso
Fernando Henrique Cardoso – also known by his initials FHC – was the 34th President of the Federative Republic of Brazil for two terms from January 1, 1995 to December 31, 2002. He is an accomplished sociologist, professor and politician...

 government. The comedy Carlota Joaquina - Princess of Brazil came out in 1995 and is held by many as the first film of the retomada, or the return of national film production. Since then there have been films with Academy Award nominations such as O Quatrilho
O Quatrilho
O Quatrilho is a 1995 Brazilian drama film directed by Fábio Barreto. It was adapted from a José Clemente Pozenato novel by telenovela writer Antônio Calmon and screenwriter Leopoldo Serran. It stars famous telenovela actresses Patrícia Pillar and Glória Pires and Bruno Campos, which later became...

, Central Station and City of God. The dark urban film O Invasor was chosen as the best film of the period by magazine Revista de Cinema. Some other films that have attracted attention are Carandiru
Carandiru (film)
Carandiru is a 2003 Brazilian and Argentine film directed by Hector Babenco. It is based on the book Estação Carandiru by Dr. Drauzio Varella, a physician and AIDS specialist, who is portrayed in the film by Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos....

, O Homem Que Copiava
O Homem Que Copiava
O Homem que Copiava is a 2003 Brazilian comedy film by Jorge Furtado, set in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.- Plot :André Maciel, a young man who works in a photocopier shop, falls in love with his neighbour Sílvia, who works in a clothes shop. In order to get closer to her he decides to...

, Madame Satã
Madame Satã (film)
Madame Satã is a 2002 Brazilian-French drama film directed by Karim Aïnouz. It tells the story of Madame Satã and premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.-Cast:* Lázaro Ramos - João Francisco dos Santos / Madame Satã...

, Abril Despedaçado
Behind the Sun (film)
Behind the Sun is a 2001 Brazilian film directed by Walter Salles, produced by Arthur Cohn, and starring Rodrigo Santoro...

, Olga and Dois Filhos de Francisco
2 Filhos de Francisco
2 Filhos de Francisco - A História de Zezé di Camargo e Luciano is a 2005 Brazilian drama film about the lives of the musicians Zezé Di Camargo & Luciano....

, though perhaps some of these would no longer qualify as films of the retomada, since the term is only adequate to describe the initial boost that occurred in the nineties.

Still common in Brazilian cinema is a taste for social and political criticism, a trait that reflects its strong Cinema Novo influences. Poverty, favelas, drought and famine are themes so common that the term "cosmética da fome", or "hunger cosmetic" (a new take on Glauber Rocha's "estética da fome", or "hunger esthetics") was coined as a way to criticize its supposed exhaustion if not exploitation. For the common movie goer, there has been a shift in perception towards Brazilian cinema as becoming more audience friendly.

Television shows of the Rede Globo network such as Casseta & Planeta
Casseta & Planeta
Casseta & Planeta is a Brazilian group of comedians who run a TV show named Casseta & Planeta Urgente, broadcast by Rede Globo. The humour featured on the show is mostly satirical, relating to religious or ethical groups, and minorities .The group founded a company called...

and Os Normais
Os Normais
Os Normais is a Brazilian sitcom directed by José Alvarenga Jr. and written by Jorge Furtado, Alexandre Machado, and Fernanda Young. It aired from 2001 to 2003 on Rede Globo. It features a lot of nonsensical situations, unpredictable stories and wild, often explicit humour...

have also received film versions and Globo Filmes, Globo's film production branch, has been behind many of the films that have come out over the years, often as a co-producer. Globo's presence is seen by some critics as being overly commercial, thus compelling certain filmmakers to work outside its system to create independent work.

Documentaries have also had a strong place in Brazilian cinema thanks to the work of renowned directors such as Eduardo Coutinho and João Moreira Salles.

In 2007, the film Tropa de Elite
Tropa de Elite
The Elite Squad is a 2007 Brazilian film directed by José Padilha. The film is a semi-fictional account of the BOPE , the Special Police Operations Battalion of the Rio de Janeiro Military Police. It is the second feature film and first fiction film of Padilha, who had previously directed the...

gained headlines due to how quickly pirate DVD copies spread among viewers before its release on theaters, but also due to the large number of audience members who cheered police brutality scenes. Its depiction of drug users as crime sponsors also fueled debates on the legalisation of drugs.

Internal market

Since the 1970s, the quantity of film theaters declined heavily. During the 90's, it became common for small theaters to close while most of the market became concentrated around multiplex theaters, usually found in shopping centers. In the last decades, the accessibility of televisions, now sold at lower prices, combined with Rede Globo's success in making telenovelas of high production quality made cinema less attractive to lower income audiences. In addition, ticket prices increased more than 10 times in a time span of 20 years.

While in the early 1990s Brazilian film production fell into a crisis due to Collor's laissez-faire
In economics, laissez-faire describes an environment in which transactions between private parties are free from state intervention, including restrictive regulations, taxes, tariffs and enforced monopolies....

 policy, creating a shock in an area that had always depended on protectionist measures, the retomada allowed Brazilian film to peak again, though not to the same numbers it had once seen before. A significant increase in audience was recorded, however, from 2000 to 2002, with 7 million viewers, to 2003, when 22 million viewers came to theaters to watch national films. Because these films were made possible thanks to incentive laws introduced in the 90's and that the number of viewers drawn in from year to year can fluctuate significantly, it is often questioned whether film production has in fact reached a certain amount of stability and whether or not it could in the future succumb to any governmental whims.

Incentive laws allow Brazilian films to receive funding from companies that, by acting as sponsors, are allowed tax deductions. A common criticism is that, through this system, though films are no longer directly controlled by state, they are, nevertheless, subject to the approval of entrepreneurs who are logically cautious as to which content they wish to associate their brands. Even with funding, there are still areas that require some struggle from filmmakers, such as distribution, television participation and DVD release.


  • AUGUSTO, Sérgio. Esse mundo é um pandeiro: chanchada de Getúlio a JK. Companhia das Letras.
  • GOMES, Paulo Emilo Sales. Cinema: trajetória no subdesenvolvimento. Paz e Terra.
  • 30 Anos de Cinema e Festival: a história do Festival de Brasília do Cinema Brasileiro / coordinated by Berê Bahia. Brasília, Fundação Cultural do Distrito Federal, 1998.
  • CALDAS, Ricardo Wahrendorff & MONTORO, Tânia. A Evolução do Cinema no Século XX. Casa das Musas, Brasília, 2006.
  • Brazilian Cinema. Ministry of Culture, Brasília 1999 (catalog).
  • Glauber Rocha: del hambre al sueño. Obra, política y pensamiento. Malba - Colección Constantini, Artes Gráficas Ronor S.A., April 2004.

Further reading

  • Robert Stam
    Robert Stam
    Robert Stam is University Professor at New York University, where he teaches about the French New Wave filmmakers. Stam has published widely on French literature, comparative literature, and on film topics such as film history and film theory.-Books:* *...

    : Tropical Multiculturalism - PB: A Comparative History of Race in Brazilian Cinema and Culture (Latin America Otherwise, Duke University Press, 1997, ISBN 0822320487

Awards and nominations for Brazilian films

See also

  • Cinema of the world
  • Mouth of Garbage Cinema
    Mouth of Garbage Cinema
    Garbage Mouth film is the collective name for a film genre associated with the Boca do Lixo area of São Paulo, Brazil. On par with Italian giallo and American slasher films, films of this genre are exploitational and often considered B movies...

  • Grande Prêmio do Cinema Brasileiro
  • World cinema
    World cinema
    World cinema is a term used primarily in English language speaking countries to refer to the films and film industries of non-English speaking countries. It is therefore often used interchangeably with the term foreign film...

External links

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