Last Friday July 29, a huge fire broke out in a storage room of the Sao Paulo Cinematheque, which implied the destruction of four tons of material. It is estimated that around one million documents of the Brazilian film history were lost, among movie copies in filmic support and paper scripts.
The incident, where no injured people were recorded, took place while a third-party company was performing maintenance tasks on air-conditioning units and destroyed, at least, two rooms with audiovisual material and one with printed files. As explained by the Brazilian Fire Chief, Karina Paula Moreira, “the fire began in one of the historic film collection rooms of the first floor, which is divided in three rooms.” The spokesperson of the Sao Paulo fire department, Marcos Palumbo, noted that the highly flammable conditions of the film material kept in the storage room, led to a quick spread of the flames.
According to the first reports concerning the material affected, it is assumed that it has been completely destroyed. This implies a hard an irreversible blow to the cultural heritage of Brazilians, which evidences the devastation of culture exercised by the government of Jair Bolsonaro, who is responsible for the management of the institution. Joao Doria, governor of the city of Sao Paulo, has denounced the “disregard for the art and memory of Brazil”, and has expressed that the idleness of the State with regard to culture implies the “gradual death of the national culture.”
One week before the event, the Prosecutor’s Office had warned the Brazilian government about the possible fire risks threatening the institution in charge of safeguarding the audiovisual heritage of the country. Towards July 2020, the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Sao Paulo had filed a legal proceeding against the federal government for the abandonment of such institution.
Laís Bodansky, Audiovisual Director, declared on her social networks that “it was already known that this could happen due to the inaction of the federal government concerning the management of the Cinematheque.” Since the current president took office, the budget cuts for the cultural sector have been intensified. “This is a day of mourning for the Brazilian audiovisual director, for our Brazilian cinematographic industry, because our memory is being erased. They were doing that already, it was the plan,” she argued.
Employees of the Cinematheque’s building published a declaration in which they called the incident an “announced crime.” “For more than one year we publicly denounced the possibility of a fire within the Cinematheque’s premises due to the lack of documentation, conservation and dissemination workers. Warnings were made about the possibility of this accident to occur on the saltpeter collections of Vila Clementino, since it is a flammable material that may burn down without periodic review,” the document states. “Many losses might have been avoided if works had been contracted and took part in the daily activities of the institution,” signatories added before mentioning the dismissal of the Cinematheque’s technical staff in 2020 and the salaries that remained unpaid. They also highlighted how essential the presence of workers is to preserve the material, declaring that “the lack of a specialized technical team for a year had irreversible consequences for the state of preservation of the materials,” and that “only with the return of the specialized team it will be possible to assess the scope of losses and damages in order to resume the conservation activities.”
Employees of the Cinematheque published on the declaration a detail of the losses caused by the fire:
“From the documents collection: large part of the records from extinct audiovisual bodies as part of the File Embrafilme - Empresa Brasileira de Filmes SA (1969-1990), part of the Files from the Instituto Nacional de Cine - INC (1966-1975) and Concine - National Council of Cinema (1976-1990), apart from document files still in the process of incorporation.”
“From the audiovisual collection: part of the collection from the distributor Pandora Filmes, copies of Brazilian and foreign films in 35mm. Matrices and copies of unique newspapers, previews, advertisements, documentaries, fiction movies, home movies, as well as additional elements of matrices from feature films, all of which are potentially unique.”
“Part of the collection from the ECA/USP – School of Communications and Arts of the University of Sao Paulo – produced by students in 16 mm and 35 mm.”
“Part of the video collection from the journalist Goulart de Andrade.”
“From the equipment and furniture collection for films, photography and lab-processing: apart from its museum value, many of these objects were essential to repair equipment of current use, since machinery is required to display or even duplicate materials in films or obsolete video and with no market replacement.”
“Unhappily, we lost one more part of the Brazilian historical-cultural heritage,” the document finalizes.
Mario Frías, Secretary of Culture of Brazil, attributed the fire to previous managements and declared that “what has been destroyed for decades, cannot be built in one year.” It is important to highlight that, during the management of Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian Ministry of Culture was degraded to Secretariat, with a consequential budget reduction to the Cinematheque and the abandonment, denounced by artists and cultural workers, of the largest image record in Latin America.”
Kleber Mendonça Filho, Audiovisual Director, reminded that the Cinematheque had been closed for a year and regretted the loss on his social networks: “We were left without the Brazilian family album.” “After the fire in the National Museum of Río (in 2018) and numerous aid requests for the film community (twenty years ago, I spoke about this in Cannes), nothing was done. This does not seem to be an accident,” he added.
On their part, a group of opposition deputies will file a criminal complaint against the Secretariat of Culture of the Federal Government and the secretary, Mario Frías. The deputy Paulo Texeira, member of the movement, mentioned that Frías was warned about the fire risk by congress members of the Culture Commission in 2020. The compliant was signed by deputies Jandira Feghali (PC do B-RJ), Alice Portugal (PC do B-BA), Benedita da Silva (PT-RJ), Maria do Rosário (PT-RS), Tadeu Alencar (PSB-PE), Lídice da Mata (PSB-BA), Sâmia Bonfim (PSOL-SP), Alexandre Pailha (PT-SP), Áurea Carolina (PSOL-MG), Orlando Silva (PCdoB)-SP), Chico D'Angelo (PDT-RJ), David Miranda (PSOL-RJ) and Túlio Gadêlha (PDT-PE).
From the group of Directors, Screenwriters and Authors from the Latin American Audiovisual sector, we express our solidarity with our Brazilian colleagues. We deeply regret the irreparable damage that this causes to their cultural heritage as well as to the cultural heritage of Latin America.