Sweaty and Silent in the Amazon


It’s been painful, but I’ve finally broken in. I didn’t know what was breaking—or what needed to be broken—but it happened in the Amazon. I guessed that something was up, but the roar was so deafening I could barely make out what was happening. The change was confirmed the moment I set foot back in Rio de Janeiro. Here, where life is clearly cultured and (more or less) civilized, I could finally see, feel, and hear that I had been through something big. Something had to give—and something gave.

I traveled in the Amazon solo for almost 3 weeks. Since then, I’ve been spending long stretches of time in Rio—alone, too. Like, days at a time. This is not normal for me. I like to have people around, know that I can call someone, meet up for a beer, coffee, yoga class, chit chat whathaveyou.

In New York, I’m a text pro. I love getting and sending little messages, little reminders that people are out there, that *I’m* out there. Of course I have email and Facebook here, but most of my friends have been leaving me alone—not quite able to get over the *idea* that I am so far away. Communication with my normal life has been limited.

Traveling only in Portuguese—very intermediate level Portuguese, I have to tell you—meant there was a lot I couldn’t say. There was a lot I couldn’t understand, either. Eventually, painfully, I got used to expecting that I wouldn’t understand most of what was said to me. Or that I could say anything close to what I meant to express. No nuance, subtlety, or humor. I would go for a very long time, it seemed, saying things like, “How much does this cost?” “Where does the bus to X stop?” “Can I see the menu?” It’s not enough to make a person feel like a full member of society.

It was hard to get used to feeling like an imbecile, an outsider. Several places I traveled had no tourists at all, certainly no one who spoke English. I felt almost mute, my capacity for complex thought and speech dulled to the point of absurdity.

I was spending more and more time in silence. My cheekbones began to ache from spending too long in the same position.

Brazilians were patient with me. They were even fascinated that I would try to learn their language. Without exception, they think that their language is very difficult to learn. Conjugating the verbs is mind-scrambling. Learning the gender of nouns (and their adjectives and articles) is akin to learning to type on the QWERTY keyboard—at some point you just have to dive in blind and make lots and lots of mistakes. It’s impossible to memorize.

Brazilians also have a lot of different words for everything, a lot of slang and informal expressions. So whatever you learned in language school really might not be relevant on the street.

I’ve had the Portuguese-is-very-hard-to-learn conversation with almost every single person I’ve met in Brazil from friends to strangers to some passing dude at the bar, in Rio to Santarem to Mossoro and beyond. But I wouldn’t say it was harder then French, and certainly not harder than Russian or Japanese.

It’s just that living in another language is hard. Not just saying hello and thank you, but having a complete life in another language.

Negotiating every day life and the intricacies of travel in a very strong and wild place was even harder, I think. It was tough, like grating an old dry root with a rusty knife. It was work. And it seemed to yield so little. Sometimes I could tell that people had decided before I opened my mouth that they couldn’t understand me. And that didn’t help.

sweaty and silent in the Amazon

sweaty and silent in the Amazon

Sometimes people were incredulous that I spoke at all, like the middle-aged Carioca (someone from Rio) I met on a guided hike in the Amazon who exclaimed, “Ela fala!!” (she speaks!) when I greeted her and her husband with a general “bom dia.” (Although so few Americans speak any other language but English that it’s easy to understand her surprise.)

Everyone without exception—from fellow traveler to waiter to hotel proprietor to tour guide to ferry captain to river-dweller said my Portuguese was really good. But judging from how isolated I felt inside my language-skills, I did not agree.

Every day there came a moment when I needed to stop trying. I needed to let all the fun/exasperation of learning and the effort of communicating slip past me in a gentle burble of crescendoing and decrescendoing cadences. It can be a very sing-songy language.

I would crawl into my hammock and turn on my iPhone to read e-books by John McPhee. (My “Nook” and its entire library of travel reading was stolen in Ilha de Marajo, probably by someone who thought it was a much sexier iPad.) I’d block out everything else. Portuguese became background noise, like the wind in the trees, peppered with occasional guffaws of laughter and the clinking of ice cubes in caipirinhas.

Reading in my native tongue gave my overworked brain a moment to normalize. It was deeply gratifying. I felt human there. It turns out that I’m very attached to being able to communicate. To other people.

Of course, I’ve always talked to myself as most people do (though I try to be aware of this and not move my lips). And as someone who writes, I’m always making mental notes. But this was a much, much deeper level of conversation-with-self that I was comfortable with.

This was myself divided into the person who spoke, listened, acted, and responded, and the person who commented on how weird this all was. The person who commented was getting a much bigger role these days. I mean, isn’t it absurd to say that you “drink a bath” when what you mean is you “take a shower”?

Or how about when something doesn’t work, you say, “nao combina” or “nao da”—it doesn’t combine, it doesn’t give. Or that “vipee” means an exclusive section (of a boat or a club or a bus)–a Portuguese-ification  of “V.I.P.” But V.I.P.—very important person— does not, can not, exist in Portuguese. You just have to know this.

So it wasn’t just that I didn’t know the words, didn’t have the vocabulary, or couldn’t conjugate. It was that I had no idea where people were coming from. I was oriented in the wrong direction, without a clue. I was mystified, baffled, blind-folded.

And then there were the experiences—the hotel manager in Santarem who went out of his way to get a taxi for me, and then grabbed my ass as I got into it; the drunk university students from Sao Paulo who had noisy sex on the small boat we our NGO group was traveling on; the native boy who broke his shin bone playing soccer in the dusk in a remote community on the Rio Ararpiuns—on a Sunday when all the radio operators were off having dinner with their families.

All these things largely stayed inside since I had a hard time discussing them in my fumbling Portuguese.

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I’m good at coping—excellent at it (my therapist would agree!)—and so I got by. It wasn’t the end of the world. I was meeting people anyway, I was having experiences. I was (more or less) safe. I wouldn’t be traveling in the Amazon for that long, after all. It was likely I would spend most of the rest of my life in English, my language.

But the silence inside me grew.

So did my knowledge of John McPhee’s oeuvre.

So did my risk-taking.

I said more, right or wrong, and hoped for the best. I started to care much less about being thoughtful, about having meaningful conversations. To communicate a few basic opinions about the medicinal trees on our hike became exciting. A couple of comments on Brazilian food or politics made me feel positively human.

(Though sometimes after being silent for a very long while, words in any language came out wrong, like I’d forgotten how to speak.)

What took so long to change was being comfortable living in this internal world of my own commentary—without anyone to share it with immediately and get relief from the absurdity and frustrations of so many situations.

Living alone with myself, deeply alone, with only my own company, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, relating my trials and triumphs to myself. This was work that was scouring my insides.

The enormity of what I was experiencing in the Amazon far outstripped the capacity of email or Facebook as modes of expression. Plus,  the Internet didn’t work during the rain storms, and there were rainstorms every day. The winds kicked out phone lines, cash machines—anything that relied on a signal, for hours and days at a time. The one day I wrote a long blog post I felt fantastic for the entire day. Ecstatic. Tremendously relieved. Otherwise, I was alone in my travels, alone in my language, alone in myself. Together in myself, alone.

Until I wasn’t. And that’s what changed today, when I noticed that I’d spent the entire day alone, and most of yesterday and the day before that. And for the first time, I felt quite content. I didn’t feel on the fringes, I didn’t feel cast out. My Portuguese has improved a lot, that’s true. People who I’d only spoken English to before I left for the Amazon now speak to me in Portuguese—with all my mistakes, but so be it.

Today, too, I went to a traveler’s clinic in Rio to get my cranky gut checked out. I did the entire visit in Portuguese, even though there were many many words I didn’t know. Somehow I just open my eyes really wide and let all the sounds rush into my face. I know that sounds weird, but that’s what it feels like: I make my face porous and I try really hard not to think. Then, I understand.

But it hasn’t improved *that* much. I’m still very far from fluent. And some days I just feel very lazy about all this effort. I don’t even try to speak Portuguese without a gringo accent. I don’t even get worked up about the darned verbs.

But most of all—more than this—is that I now understand what had to change.

Sweaty and Silent in the Amazon Author Joelle Hann 3.jpg

For years now, my life has been increasingly focused on the external—on other people, the demands of my job (in which I take care of other people’s books and projects), relationships (focused on other people), socializing (other people), the worry about being included or not being included (others).

Drawn so far outside of myself, I could not hear the internal conversation very well. I had kept a journal since I was 14, but in the last year or two that had begun to be less and less of a priority. I’d lost the itch for this private conversation. It used to be critical to my sense of well-being. Living, traveling and roughing it in the Amazon in Portuguese threw me back in touch with this long-neglected creature, this space of reflection and companionship.

I have to say, it feels really great! I suffered so much while traveling but the contentedness now is so sweet that all the turmoil seems worth it.

And while I *could* go to the adorable and much-beloved local botequim next door, Bar do Gomes, tonight and have adventurous (and very imperfect) conversations, I’m staying in writing this. And feeling fine. Even knowing that tomorrow all the things I need to do require more solitude as well.

My reluctance to go deep inside appears to be over. Maybe I had thought, like my poetry, it wasn’t there anymore. That there was no there there. The there was the there of my youth. I hadn’t realized it had gone missing. Or that if missing, it could come back. It feels like I’m back to where I started from: in that place of deep listening that the poets know.

Here’s what Katy Poole, a Jyotish practitioner (Vedic science of the stars) wrote today on Facebook—so beautiful because it applies perfectly:

“Today the Moon is transiting Shravana, the Listening Stars. The tree full of ears. The inner voice. The prophetic vision. The revelation. Open your ears. And listen.”

My ruling planet is Shravana. I’ve been away a long time.

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Words I Learned in the Amazon


A Brief Lexicon of Rivers and Jungles

a tempestade = storm

a trovão = thunder

o raio = lightning

demora = wait, delay, lateness

a rede = hammock

a corda = rope (to hang the hammock if necessary)

o bicho = insect (also animal, which is super confusing)

a picada = bug bite or sting

a coceira = itch

queimar = to burn

o repelente = bug spray

o urubu = vulture (many, many vultures)

o rei dos urubus = king of the vultures (you just wish these were eagles, would be so much cooler)

a furmiga = ant (terrors of the Amazon, and you’re always stepping in them)

a borboleta = butterfly

a mariposa = moth

a bruxa = obscenely enormous moth (also, witch)

o jacaré = alligator or cayman

o peixe-boi = manatee (endangered)

a preguiça = sloth (the animal)

a lagoa = lagoon

o igarapé = “canoe path” (usually through shallow water over a submerged jungle)

o orla fluvial = riverfront promenade (where you catch your boat or eat your crazy soup or fish by moonlight or make out with your girlfriend/boyfriend, or park your car and turn your stereo up to 1,000 decibels)

carimbó = Amazon music and dance 

o barco = small boat

a navio = bigger boat, ship

a recreo = very, very slow boat (the passenger bus of the Amazon)

os chinelos = flip flops (national shoe, see earlier post and this today)

o chapéu = hat (necessary for gringos, straw ones keep off the sun and the jungle rain)

a biquini = bikini

o sunga = men’s swim trunks (actually pretty attractive, not Speedos and not Bermuda shorts)

fazer xixi = to pee

chateada = annoyed

o tacacá = crazy soup that numbs your mouth (but one of the only Amazon dishes that contains greens)

jumbu = the greens that numb your mouth (known as the “toothache plant”)

tucunaré = delicious fresh-water fish, served whole, grilled or in sauce (tomato, coconut, or butter)

surubim = delicious fish

tambaqui = delicious fish

dourada = delicious fish, usually fried

filhote = delicious fish (served in fillets, naturally)

pirarucu = delicious and enormous fish (fatty like salmon, though a white fish– super tasty!)

mandioc = cassava

aipim = cassava

tapioca = cassava

tucupi = gelatinous cassava

farinha = flour of cassava

farofa = toasted flour of cassava

! ! ! ! ! ! !


Documenta Brazil 2008: Rhythms of Brasilidade


A still from “Jogo de Cena” (Playing) 2007 by Eduardo Coutinho. Coutinho ‘interviews’ actress Fernanda Torres in a fake ‘audition.’

A still from “Jogo de Cena” (Playing) 2007 by Eduardo Coutinho. Coutinho ‘interviews’ actress Fernanda Torres in a fake ‘audition.’

What does it say when one of the filmmakers featured at a documentary film festival is 40 minutes late for his scheduled round-table event? True, it’s Friday night in New York, and it’s storming out. True, Brazilians have a more elastic sense of time, and the filmmaker had just arrived from Brazil. Maybe he had gone to some other event that had run late?

“I’d like to say I went to see a wonderful film from Estonia or Mongolia,” said a sheepish João Moreira Salles when at last he took his seat in the already-started panel. “But I did not. I went to see James Bond.”

So went the second day of Documenta Brazil, a documentary film festival hosted at the King Juan Carlos Center at New York University that featured 23 well-chosen films from 21 contemporary Brazilian filmmakers. Humor and a little bit of the absurd permeated the serious event–—which included several catered receptions, live music, and a keynote address by a prominent Brazilian critic and intellectual, José Miguel Wisnik (also an accomplished composer, pianist, and singer).

The crowd was a refreshing blend of students, academics, neighborhood residents, Brazilophiles, Brazilians and friends of the festival. Though people dressed in jeans, sweaters, and parkas, the vibe was elegantly engaged; this audience had a good appreciation of film and culture. For film buffs it was a thrill to mingle with admired filmmakers—João Moreira Salles and Sandra Kogut—who had accompanied their films to the six-day festival.

Having already seen Salles’ latest documentary Santiago in Boston last winter, and Carlos Diegues and Rafael Draguad’s AfroReggae: No Motive Explains War (AfroReggae: Nenhum Motivo Explica a Guerra) at MoMA’s Brazilian film festival in 2007, I was curious to see a broader range of Brazilian documentaries, and what—if anything—filmmakers were addressing outside of the well-documented, almost cliché subjects of Brazilian cinema—life in the slums, police corruption, and hard times in the rural northeast.

Friday’s discussion included Salles, Kogut, Lincoln Center Film Festival director Richard Peña, and two academics—Luz Horne from Princeton, and the moderator Edgardo Diekele.

Kogut emphasized, “Brazilian filmmakers know what’s expected from Brazil is violence and misery—they know people want to see the big issues, but this is changing.”

Salles added that the best Brazilian documentary filmmaking is increasingly not just about its subject, but also about the “grammar” of film, or what the film also says about filmmaking. Diekele held up three examples: Salles’ Santiago (2006), an elusive portrait of his family’s butler; Eduardo Coutinho’s Playing (Jogo de Cena), in which actresses and ordinary women separately recount the women’s tragic stories (2007); and Sandra Kogut’s 2002 documentary The Hungarian Passport (Um Passaporte Húngaro).

Kogut called all three films more subtle stories for Brazil—dot-dot-dots rather than exclamation points. Kogut’s film charts her own quest to receive her Hungarian passport despite overwhelming bureaucratic and cultural obstacles. A Brazilian Jew of Hungarian origins, Kogut is also charting Jewish immigration and Brazil’s early anti-Semitism.

Festival co-director Micaela Kramer, a PhD student in Comparative Literature at NYU, says she got the idea for the festival after being impressed by the work of three prominent filmmakers, João Moreira Salles, Eduardo Coutinho, and Paulo Sacramento. But it took her a year and a half to secure funding, and find a location and a co-director, fellow student Fernando Pérez (“the most Brazilian Chilean I know!” says Kramer).

The project gained momentum after the pair received their first grant, and after the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center showed an interest in hosting the festival.

While most of Documenta Brazil’s films were made before 2000, the oldest—Eduardo Coutinho’s Santa Marta: Two Weeks on the Hill (Santa Marta: Duas Semanas No Morro) from 1987—gave a nod to Coutinho as the father of Brazilian documentary filmmaking. It also contextualized other works in the festival, having been one of the first to document “the open secret” of impoverished life and police harassment in Rio de Janeiro’s Santa Marta slum.

The festival directors thoughtfully paired Coutinho’s film with News from a Personal War (Noticias de Uma Guerra Particular) (1999) by Salles and co-director Katia Lund. This film returns to the same favela 12 years later by which time the drug war, violence, and police brutality had escalated to an absurd point. The Rio chief of police is on film saying the “war” is no longer about the good guys winning—there are no good guys anymore, and no one is going to win.

In spite of this continued emphasis on the horrors of the drug trade, police corruption, and favela life, I was happy that the festival also included documentaries on other subjects such as immigration (to, from, and within Brazil), romance (as older women looked back on their lives in a macho society), teenage pregnancy, folk artists, and Orson Welles’s visit to Rio in 1942. Brazilian music and musicians were well represented with no fewer than five documentaries.

In fact, Documenta Brazil seemed designed to elevate the form of documentary filmmaking from the status of supporting actor in the Brazilian film world to leading man.

“Documentary filmmakers are often asked when they will make their first feature film,” said João Moreira Salles (whose brother, Walter Salles, is a successful feature film maker) with a chuckle. “But no one would ever approach a director such as Ingmar Bergman and say, ‘Okay with the fiction, but when are you going to make your first documentary?’”

“A festival like Documenta Brazil aims at destabilizing such a hierarchy,” agrees co-director Micaela Kramer. “We are showing that documentary films are as interesting as fiction films.”

Richard Peña, Lincoln Center Film Festival director, adds, “This is a new generation of filmmakers. They don’t claim to speak for a nation, but to speak for themselves.”


Celluloid Dreams: Sao Paulo


The Rise of a Little Film School in Brazil

AT 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning, students wait anxiously to be buzzed in through the heavy, wrought-iron gates at 142 Rua Dr. Gabriel dos Santos. Beyond lies a large, colonial house with a broad, wrap-around veranda. As students march upstairs to the old-fashioned classrooms, the wide-plank steps creak noisily underfoot. By 3p.m., schooled in the basics of documentary film making, they’re back on the street—shooting their first video on a digital video camera.

Brooklyn NYC Author Joelle Hann Brazil

While this scene might sound typical, these students are not from New York University’s illustrious film school, nor the well-funded School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. They won’t be driving off to Sundance anytime soon. (If they go, they’ll be taking a 10-hour international flight.)

Rather, these students are enrolled at Academia Internacional de Cinema (AIC), a small, independent film school that’s located in the residential Higienópolis neighborhood of São Paulo, Brazil.

Chasing a dream, AIC’s founders Steven Richter (an American), and Flavia Rocha (a Brazilian), co-founded the Academia in 2004 with their friend Ram Devineni (American). Richter, who had worked as the Production Director for Trafika Films in the U.S., briefly considered opening the school in Brooklyn. But when Rocha met some generous Brazilian bureaucrats at a Manhattan cocktail party, the couple decided to base the school in Brazil.

“Our goal was to launch an independent film school that developed independent filmmakers. It was to empower individuals to go out and have a vision and the know-how in all the areas in the art and craft of filmmaking,” says Richter, 36, who is AIC’s director and majority owner with Rocha, 34. (The couple are married.)

Celluloid Dreams Author Joelle Hann.jpg

Richter, who had taught film to underprivileged students in the Bronx and was also an educator and course developer for the Seattle Film Institute, designed AIC to meet the needs of students who wanted to learn all aspects of filmmaking by actually making films. In Brazil, where major film schools typically require years of coursework before filmmaking begins, the Academia’s hands-on approach was a welcome change. (It was the first and is still the only independent film school in Brazil to offer a full-time program.) As of 2007, the school—which increases its programming by 15-20% every year—had 80 full-time film students and 300 part-timers taking workshops and intensives.

“Most programs available in Brazil are geared towards people who can afford it,” says Devineni, 35, who handles international relations for the school, fostering important connections with industry insiders in the U.S. Devineni also recently established Bollywood Brazil, bringing Bollywood films and productions to Brazil and vice versa. “We wanted to make it more open and democratic—anyone can apply—and if they’re diligent they can do well.”

The Academia is not unlike other Brazilian film schools in that it’s mostly comprised of middle and upper-class students in their mid-twenties. But while most film schools accept only 10-12 people, AIC accepts anyone—even if they don’t have an extensive portfolio. The school also makes a concerted effort to be inclusive, offering bolsas (scholarships) to low-income students, some of whom come from favelas in São Paulo and Rio (known for their poverty and drug and gang activity).

The Academia originally opened in the southern city of Curitiba, where the city government found the school subsidized housing in a former industrial neighborhood. But soon discovering the limitations of this relationship, Richter and Rocha relocated the school to its current spot in São Paulo.

“The school is now 100% private money,” says Richter, “That gives us freedom but makes things difficult, too.” The school relies exclusively on student tuition and grants to help them bring in international faculty such as Argentinean director Lucrecia Martel (“The Holy Girl”), Polish cinematographer Grzegorz Kedzierski, American Allison Anders (“Gas, Food, Lodging” screenwriter), and Steven Hopkins (director, “Trembling before G-d”). Most of the Brazilian faculty continue to work in film.

Brazilian writer Marcelo Carneiro da Cunha, 50, whose 15th book will be published this May, teaches scriptwriting at AIC. He says the Academia is important in the landscape of Brazilian film, “because it has a very practical view of filmmaking. It is not academic, and this helps improve the quality of the students’ films enormously.”

Former student Érico Rassi, 35, adds that because students work all crew positions (lights, sound, directing, etc.) on one another’s films, they quickly become very skillful. They also make connections that last well beyond school. “It is a college of art so you get to know a lot of people who have the same lines of thought as you. You make connections—your friends become your colleagues.” Rassis’ 10-minute film, “Um Pra Um” (One to One, 2006) made during his one semester at the Academia, has been shown in festivals throughout Brazil and won first prize at Rio’s International Short Film Festival in 2007.

Despite its emphasis on the practical side of filmmaking, the Academia sees itself as an art school that teaches filmmaking rather than a technical school that teaches craft. Students have created over 1,000 short films to date, with full-time students directing 14 films in both film and video, and acting as crew on at least 15 others in their graduating year alone. The majority of students are just beginning to enter festivals, win prizes, and get distribution for their projects.

Aside from Rassi, who continues to work full-time in advertising (as many Brazilian filmmakers must to support themselves), graduate Cristiano Burlan’s work is getting recognition: his first feature film, “Corações Desertos” (Deserted Hearts, 2006) was selected for the New Directors competition in the 30th International Film Festival of São Paulo, South America’s biggest film festival. His documentary “Construção” (Construction, 2006) was accepted to Tudo Verdade (It’s All True) an important documentary festival held (simultaneously) in São Paulo and Rio, as well as other festivals in Brazil and Cuba. He now teaches at AIC.

To help bring in new students and diversify their offerings, the Academia added a one-year creative writing program in February 2007. The program, Criação Literária, has a broader curriculum than the ones available at other schools in São Paulo, the seat of some of Brazil’s most powerful literary publishers. Already it has 30 full-time students.

“There are only small workshops in São Paulo,” says Rocha, who directs the writing program and has an MFA in poetry from Columbia University. Her bilingual book of poems “The Blue House Around Noon/A Casa Azul ao Meio-Dia,” from Travessa dos Editores, was published in 2005. “This is a different kind of commitment, much more extensive.”Rocha, also a working journalist and the former director of communications and publicity at the school, invites writers she admires to run the poetry, fiction, and non-fiction workshops. “There are some talented students in the course and we hope that it will have an effect on the São Paulo writing community.”

The film students have all the necessary equipment and facilities at their disposal, including two sound studios and a screening room, ten Macintosh computers with Final Cut Pro 6, and about ten cameras in various formats, including 16mm. Lighting and sound gear, plus post-sound mixing and editing equipment are also available, as is a library with more than 500 films on DVD. Quality used equipment can be very hard to find in Brazil’s relatively small film industry, and extremely expensive to purchase outright.

Additionally, Brazil’s major arts funding is closely tied to heavily bureaucratic government programs at the federal, state, and city levels that allow corporations to sponsor artists instead of paying taxes. This can lead to problems—lack of sponsorship because of a film’s subject matter and implicit favoritism when corporations want to continue funding an experienced artist instead of supporting new artists. When funding is granted but slow to get past administrative hurdles, it can delay the completion of a project—even for established filmmakers. It took Phillipe Barcinski, the award-winning film and TV director, five years to make his latest film, “Não Por Acaso” (Not by Chance, 2007).

With the exception of big-name filmmakers such as Fernando Meirelles (“The Constant Gardener,” “City of God”) and Walter Salles (“Motorcycle Diaries,” “Central Station”), Brazil produces few films that make it beyond the country’s own borders—or that even gain a respectable audience within them. “National production was seen as seen as third class. What everyone was watching and reading was American—better quality,” says Juliana Faria, Senior Analyst for research and acquisition at GloboSat, a pay-TV section of Globo Network.

However, citing the freedoms that digital technology affords, AIC co-founder Devineni says that he, Rocha, and Richter took inspiration from the ethos of 70’s filmmaking in the U.S., “Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese figured out how to raise money and get their films made; they worked on every aspect of them, that’s how it was.” They hope that AIC graduates will not only approach filmmaking—and secure funding—in the same DIY spirit but also gain wide audiences both in Brazil and abroad.

Acclaimed documentarian João Moreira Salles, winner of the Cinema Brazil Grand Prize for his 2003 film “Nelson Freire” (and brother of Walter Salles), says he feels optimistic not only about the new crop of film technicians graduating from Brazilian film institutes, but also about the type of artistic films new graduates might make. Especially, it seems, those who have graduated from independent-minded schools like the Academia. “I am very hopeful that something really good will come from it. Something formally different that says something new.”