Since its premiere on Netflix in June 2019, the documentary by the filmmaker Petra Costa On the edge of democracy It has raised the flames of the constant polarization in which Brazil lives. Opinions about the film tend to be located, without a middle ground, in one of the two political lines: those who liked it are branded as radical leftists and those who have not, of pro-Bolsonaro fans who defend a coup d'etat. This type of oversimplification is a faithful example of the reality of the Brazilian political debate in 2020.
Costa tells the story of the events that divided the country during the dismissal of former President Dilma Rousseff in 2016, while investigating the recent history of the young Brazilian democracy, since the end of the military dictatorship in the early 1980s, through the election of the union leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in 2002, until the assumption of Jair Bolsonaro.
The debates about the film were silenced by the continuous wave of political news that flood the Brazilian news, but at the beginning of 2020 they resurfaced fully when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated her for the Oscar for best documentary.
On February 3, the official Twitter account of the Jair Bolsonaro Communication Secretariat published a video about Costa's interview with the American PBS channel in which he described her as an “anti-Brazil militant”:
The United States, a filmmaker Petra Costa assumiu or the role of an anti-Brazil militant, is defaming the image of the non-foreign country. But we are here to show reality. Do not accredit em ficção, credit us fatos. pic.twitter.com/NLnf8gA87c
– SecomVc (@secomvc) February 3, 2020
In the United States, the filmmaker Petra Costa assumed the role of anti-Brazil militant and is defaming the image of our country abroad. But we are here to show reality. Do not believe in fiction, believe in the facts.
The specialists consulted by ConJur, a Brazilian legal news agency, have divergent opinions as to whether this tweet violates any rule. Some claim that it violates the principle of impartiality proper to public institutions, while others argue that, even if it were, it could be considered within the limits of freedom of expression. Deputy Maria do Rosario – who has already starred in several clashes with President Bolsonaro – filed a complaint with the Brazilian Public Ministry for the publication of this tweet.
Previously, Bolsonaro himself had said that the film was mere “fiction” and “crap,” while his youngest son, Deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro, described Costa as “crap.”
Dilma Roussef public a comment on his official Twitter account to defend Costa: “today, there is no one more” anti-Brazil “or more harmful to the image of our country abroad, than Bolsonaro himself.”
Yes On the edge of democracy wins the best documentary award this Sunday, February 9, will become the first Brazilian production to win an Oscar (co-productions with other countries have already been awarded).
When political life is also personal life
Costa en granddaughter of the founder of one of the largest construction companies in Brazil – who was involved in the “Lava Jato” operation – and daughter of leftist militants who fought against the military dictatorship (1964-1985), and tells the story of the Brazilian democracy as the backdrop to your own personal life.
His story is charged with a clear empathy for the Workers Party (PT), which ruled the country after winning three consecutive elections, from 2002 until the dismissal of Dilma Rousseff in 2016. He shares the idea that the opposition deprived him of his charge to the former president through a parliamentary coup d'etat, with accusations of minor charges (fiscal maneuvers to make up the accounts and hide the deficit) compared to the corruption scandals that led many opposition deputies.
In turn, Costa was able to access the privacy of the party: he filmed Dilma's exit from the presidential house and used exclusive material from Lula's personal photographer.
When the film was released, the media questioned Petra's mother's relationship with Lula's family, of which many details are not given in the film. Magazine Piauí, a Brazilian monthly publication, noted that a 1976 forensic photograph used in the film was digitally manipulated. The photo shows Pedro Pomar, a guerrilla who fought against the dictatorship and was the political mentor of Petra's parents, lying in a pool of blood after being killed by the military. In the image we see in the film, the shotgun and the revolver that appeared next to the body were eliminated.
According to the reporters of the magazine Piauí, Costa confessed that he was waiting for someone to point out that detail. He claimed that they erased the weapons because the police had placed them there to incriminate Pomar and other people whom they had killed. Actually, there is a lot of public documentation that supports the claim that the authorities put the weapons there after the killing.
The documentary as an experience
Many critics who received the film argue that Costa is not impartial, while others praise his work precisely for having incorporated his own point of view. The journalist Renato Terra, in an article published in the newspaper S folhaão Paulo, He says:
Or bom documentário, learned ali, é o that causes uma experience. On the idea that a document was to be impartial, didactic, informative já foi surpassed has muito tempo. Or genre that more evolution, which most allows innovations, which more value the creation of documents.
Something I learned is that a good documentary causes an experience. The idea that documentaries have to be impartial, didactic, informative, has already been overcome a long time ago. The documentary is the genre that evolved the most, the one that allows more innovations and the one that values creativity the most.
Costa's film was recommended by several artists who often identify with leftist ideas. For example, Queen Latifah published the video made by Brazilian artist Caetano Veloso to promote the documentary:
– Queen Latifah (@IAMQUEENLATIFAH) February 3, 2020
Even the filmmaker herself published a tweet with a video in which she receives praise from directors such as Jane Campion and Wim Wenders or even actor Tim Robbins:
Here Jane Campion, Wim Wenders and Tim Robbins talk about our #TheEdgeofDemocracy and the global crisis of democracy. So much gratitude for their generosity! @timrobbins @NetflixFilm @JuliaPacetti @jojonata pic.twitter.com/sDHOGw0VjA
– Petra Costa (@petracostal) January 6, 2020
Jane Campion, Wim Wenders and Tim Robbins talk about our documentary and the global crisis of democracy. Thank you very much for your generosity!
One of Costa's critics is the communication advisor to former president Michel Temer, who announced that he is also preparing his version of the recall that will be called “Plot against democracy” (“Conspiracy against democracy”).
Abroad, the documentary is considered “a warning to the democracies of the entire world” (CNN), a powerful film that “illustrates the emergence of populism and the collapse of the democratic structure” (The guardian), “A disconsolate and indignant look from Brazil” (The New York Times) or a “sincere and unforgettable requiem to the ruins of Brazilian democracy” (The New Yorker Magazine).
Regarding the attacks coming from an official government institution, Costa stated:
The Brazilian government used its Secretary of Communication official account on social media to attack me calling me an anti-patriot. This is yet another step towards authoritarianism, in face of which we should not remain silent #TheEdgeofDemocracy https://t.co/4rJ9VmRNsy
– Petra Costa (@petracostal) February 4, 2020
Bolsonaro government attacks Petra Costa, Oscar nominee, as ‘anti-Brazil activist’.
The Brazilian Government used the social media accounts of its Ministry of Communication to attack me as an antipatriota. This is a new step towards authoritarianism, against which we must not remain silent.