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Brazil: fire destroys 2,000 copies of films at the Cinémathèque de Sao Paulo

A fire devastated Thursday, July 29 a warehouse of the Brazilian Cinematheque of Sao Paulo which contained some 2000 copies of films, an incident considered by the filmmakers as a “tragedy foretold”. They have been denouncing for several months errors in the cultural policy of the Bolsonaro government.

For more than two hours, about fifty firefighters fought the flames which destroyed a large part of the building, according to images broadcast on television. The incident began at 6 p.m. local time during an air conditioning maintenance operation, firefighters said, adding that at least two movie theaters and one containing archives were destroyed.

The rapid spread of the fire was due to acetate films, an extremely flammable material, according to local media. The burned-down building is not the headquarters of the Cinémathèque, which is located in another district of Sao Paulo. The warehouse housed copies of films, many of them rare, and sometimes in better condition than the originals, according to specialists.

In recent years, four fires and a flood have affected various buildings of this cultural institution, founded in 1940. Filmmakers, artists and employees have been denouncing a policy of “dismantling” from the Cinémathèque from the government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

In July 2020, the Sao Paulo Public Prosecutor’s Office launched legal action against the federal government for “abandonment” of the Cinémathèque, calling into question the retention of resources and the absence of a manager due to a legal imbroglio. The following month, the institution ceased to function and 41 officials resigned.

In April 2021, a Manifesto of the workers of the Brazilian Cinematheque warned against the “fire hazard”, due to the lack of care provided “material, equipment, databases and buildings”. The fire was “a tragedy foretold”, estimated cinema critic Lauro Escorel on the Globonews channel.

The filmmaker Kléber Mendonça had denounced at the beginning of July to AFP in Cannes the “sabotage of the cultural support system” and the closing of the Cinémathèque. “It is as if the country no longer had a family album. It is not just a place of deposit. It is a living place, with the memory of the country”, had said the director ofAquarius and Bacurau.

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