QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM VENICE
Humberto Mauro is the father of the Brazilian Cinema and the first Brazilian filmmaker to visit the Venice Film Festival exactly 80 years ago. The Festival – which is also known as La Biennale and is now on its 75th edition – celebrates his legacy by showcasing a documentary directed by his grandson André Di Mauro. Brazil has just suffered a massive cultural loss with the National Museum fire. Humberto Mauro is therefore a timely and pertinent reminder that culture can be reborn, and that cinema functions as a powerful catalyst.
Humberto Mauro used to describe cinema as a “waterfall”. He praised filmmaking as the practice of beauty, continuity, flux and eternity. The poetic tropes are imprinted throughout his extensive filmography. Nature was his favourite subject. And he was also a political artist. The history of Brazil in central to his nearly five decades of filmmaking (from 1925 to 1974). His life and his work are virtually synonymous with Brazilianness.
Born in 1897, Humberto Mauro is contemporary to the Polish filmmaker Dziga Vertov, who was born just a year earlier. He was also born virtually at the same time as cinema itself. The first cinema exhibition by the Lumiere brothers at Salon Indien du Grande Café in Paris in 1895. He passed away in 1893.
André Di Mauro’s aesthetic choices for this documentary are a bit unusual, yet very effective. He spent nearly 20 years researching his grandfather’s films (almost 300 in total) and created what he describes as a “Vertovian doc” with the footage available. His inspiration came from Man with a Movie Camera (Vertov, 1929), combined with interviews with his grandfather. He recreates Humberto’s life from his youth in a small town called Cataguases (in the landlocked state of Minas Gerais) in the 1900s all the way to old age and his death. From the early days of Brazilian cinema, through his years as head of the government office for educational and propaganda film (INCE), all the way to the Cinema Novo movement of the 1970s. It’s as if he was passing the stick to a brand new, very transgressive generation. A masterclass of Brazilian cinema history.
Footage from classics such as Brutal Gang (1933) and The Discovery of Brazil (1936) are a central part of the film. They help audiences to understand how Brazil moved from a rural, agricultural economy into an urban, industrialised one. Humberto Mauro explains it himself in a voice over: “This is the universalisation of Brazilian regionalism to the world”. The images show a very precarious Brazil, and they hopefully raise awareness of Brazilian culture and heritage, in a country that knows so little about its past. Let’s just hope this knowledge doesn’t burn down, just like the tragic museum.
Humberto Mauro is showing at the 75th Venice International Film Festival, which is taking place right now.