In the prehistoric days of cinema, before the advent of sprawling air-conditioned multiplexes and five-dollar buckets of greasy popcorn, folks just set up their big screens outside and stretched out underneath the stars to marvel at the celluloid magic. It was kind of like a drive-in without the fumes or obstructed views, and thanks to the Brazilian Film Festival, we can return to that purity at least once every year. On Saturday night the festival continues the tradition of holding its grand premiere on the sands of Miami Beach, this time at Collins Avenue and Seventeenth Street. The event will feature a 50-foot screen, massive Surround sound speakers, and, according to organizers, some 10,000 riveted movie buffs. "We want to bring people together in the open air, the way people used to do it, to pay an homage to cinema," says Adriana Dutra, executive director of the festival. "This is about the essential happiness of the cinema."
And they couldn't have picked a better flick to celebrate that theme. Claudio MacDowell's The Call of the Oboe, named best movie by the judges as well as the public at last year's festival, tells the story of a wandering stranger who chances upon a decaying town, plays his spellbinding oboe at the movie house, and brings the locals back to life, even as he's dying of an illness. In the week following MacDowell's ode to the craft, 27 other Brasilero-made films will be screened at the Regal South Beach and Alliance cinemas. After each screening audience members will be invited to help pick public-choice winners by rating the films, and then rant and rave about them some more in panel discussions with the actors and directors.
Now in its fourth year, the festival is the product of an ongoing boom in Brazilian cinema, which first won international acclaim in the Sixties and Seventies, but fell on hard times in the late Eighties, when the government stopped giving the industry financial backing. It wasn't until 1993 that the laws were rewritten, and the resurrection began. Three movies have been nominated for Oscars in the Best Foreign Film category since then. Great stuff is again getting made, but the problem is that it's not getting out, and that's where the festival comes in. One of the goals is to encourage partnerships between Brazilian filmmakers and their more powerful American peers, who will judge the films and take part in workshops on the prospects for distribution in the States. "We have the quality, we have the creativity, we have the good actors and directors, but what we really need is the exposure," Dutra explains.
In all the talk about workshops and distribution, though, let's not forget that a film festival is, of course, about the films, and this one's got every kind imaginable. They range across all genres. They will transport you to the unspoiled South American wilderness that the Old World explorers found 500 years ago as well as to the dark slums of modern-day Rio and São Paulo.
To offer but a sampling: Faith is a documentary about the role of religion in Brazil. More playful is God the Father, a comedy short about Jesus visiting a shrink to sort out his relationship with Dad. Fans of action-adventure shoot-'em-ups will favor Hunter's Moon. The movie, about a drug deal gone bad, is a page right out of Miami Vice. Kids will want to see Rá Tim Bum Castle, the fantastic tale of a 300-year-old boy struggling to mature into a sorcerer who tries to prevent an evil aunt from destroying his castle. On the other end of the spectrum is Through the Window, a psychological drama about a woman infatuated with her grown-up son that penetrates the happy veneer of the middle-class family, à la American Beauty.
And the list goes on. Tata Amaral, director of Through the Window, says she has seen most of the movies on the fest's schedule, but notes that any attempt to summarize them or their Brazilian makers is folly. "We are a large country, and the most interesting thing about our cinema is that it doesn't have any single character, but multiple ones," she opines. "The beauty of our cinema is that it expresses our diversity."