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Cinema and culture along the river

Foto (CC BY-NC): André Fossati

Cinema and culture along the river

The Cinema no Rio Project brings films, workshops and discussions about the reality of the immense São Francisco river to the riverbank communities.

On another hot evening in the small village of Pedra de Maria da Cruz, around 7pm, people start filing in for another screening of the film project Cinema no Rio (cinema on the river). There are approximately 1,000 spectators in front of the screen to watch five shorts and one feature. In its eleven editions, creator Inácio Neves and his team produced more than 100 screenings (in addition to workshops and discussions) about the river São Francisco from its source to its mouth, and its nearly 3,000 kilometers in length.

For Inácio Neves, creator of the stories about the river and “captain” of the steamer that rises from the water, it all began in 1976, when, during a trip through on the steamer Wenceslau Brás, he fell in love with the region. At the time, Neves had another passion: the cinema. It was in 2004 that he decided to go out with an inflatable eight by three meter screen, opening the doors to a long and intense exchange between the project’s team and the communities to whom Cinema no Rio is shown. “What really moves me is the encounter with the river communities, being able to hear the stories,” Neves explains.

Beyond the centers

Juliana Afonso, researcher for the project, talks about the video and photography workshops produced in the regions where they’re shown: “The impression is really strong seeing the residents feeling important when they see themselves on the screen. Cinema no Rio aims to leave the space of the city, to exit the centers. The project was slowly creating a relationship with the places it was passing through, with the people. There’s an entire dialogue with the reality of each place.”

  • The Cinema no Rio brings colorful events to the riverbank. Photo (CC BY-NC): André Fossati

  • A Cinema no Rio screening. Photo (CC BY-NC): André Fossati

  • Children taking part in a photography and cinema workshop. Photo(CC BY-NC): André Fossati

  • “Workshop” also means: take some pictures! Photo(CC BY-NC): André Fossati

  • The river is central also to the childrens’ photography and cinema workshops. Photo(CC BY-NC): André Fossati

  • Luiza Palhares, from the project team (right), in her workshop with residents of the Rio São Francisco region. Photo(CC BY-NC): André Fossati

  • You don’t have to be a child to enjoy learning to take pictures. Photo (CC BY-NC): André Fossati

  • The screenings bring together a wide variety of residents. Photo(CC BY-NC): André Fossati

  • Inácio Neves, coordinator of the project. Photo(CC BY-NC): André Fossati

  • At the heart of the project: the Rio São Francisco. Photo(CC BY-NC): André Fossati

The cinema moving through the places ends up functioning as a kind of source for consultation, since the lack of information often hinders the development of projects to improve the infrastructure of the region. Antônio Raposo is one of the residents who gets the most out of what the project offers. He is developing his work as a luthier and cultural agitator in the region, who today is leading environmental protection and cultural manifestations, such as the congado, an African tradition of rites, festivals, storytelling, music and singing, brought to Brasil by slaves forcefully displaced and sold as part of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade of former times. “We go out to the farms and any chance we get, we borrow a projector and show a film to the people. We’ve done it so many times and the result is beautiful. Even with a small screen, we try to bring things inspired by Cinema no Rio. That stays in people’s minds,” says Raposo.

New self-image

In the afternoon, before screening in Pedra de Maria da Cruz, a photography workshop shows the local children a new way of seeing the world through the camera. But it is not only a photography workshop. It’s more of a workshop open to the exercise of seeing and expanding what you see, that helps participants to develop a new image of their own community and their surrounding environment.

“The workshops are a way of entering into direct contact with the local people. We have made optical toys and now we are making photography. They are focused on working on the gaze, on discovering how people see the town and how they react to seeing images on the screen," Neves describes. For projectionist Wagner Roberto, a transformation happens: “Whether we want to or not, we are changing the town. It’s as if a big circus arrived. And I notice that when we come back, the people are thrilled. In the projection booth, you see how the children look at the equipment. They don’t leave the same as when they came in,” he says.

Environmental awareness

Rio São Francisco, um canto de misericórdia (Rio São Francisco, a song of mercy), produced by Zenólia Filmes, Neves’s cinematic branch, is another fruit of his labors. The short film is shown at the screenings and is about a very serious theme for all in attendance: the environment. Talking about the subject and remembering what is happening with the São Francisco, Neves wrinkles his forehead and his expression changes. Until 2012, the crew traveled mainly by boat to make Cinema no Rio; today this is no longer possible.

Rio São Francisco, um canto de misericórdia from Zenólia Filmes on Vimeo.

It’s the price to be paid for years of destruction. “The region has changed immensely and the responsibility for the situation is 100% man-made. The river is simply the canal that brings water to the sea. Man has destroyed streams, sources, and the state of the tributaries is catastrophic. If one cares for the streams, the river will heal on its own. The river communities are experiencing it first hand. There are places where you can almost cross on foot. They are lacking fish. In some places there is no more water or it is contaminated. We try to educate,” says Neves.

“And to show the beauty as well as the tragedy, we let the people talk about the past. The youth have a view of the river that is different from that of the elders, the river communities’ relationships with the river are changing. Visually, the São Francisco is very beautiful, at sunset and at sunrise. Provided that things are done well, we manage to bring the young people to this conversation. One cannot blame the river communities for the river’s ruin. The guilty parties in this, the majority of times, don’t even know the river,” Neves concludes, his voice breaking.


    February 2017
    Brazil, Rio São Francisco

    Cinema no Rio
    Zenólia Filmes


    Rafael Mendonça
    is a cultural and political journalist, one of the editors of the defunct magazine Graffiti 76% comics and currently responsible for Baderna Notícias.  

    Translated by

    Sara Hanaburgh


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