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A Century of Brazilian Documentary Film

A Century of Brazilian Documentary Film
From Nationalism to Protest

The first comprehensive study of Brazilian documentary filmmaking, offering a sweeping look at more than a century of cinematic journalism, propaganda, and artistry.

Series: Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Endowment in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture

July 2022
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328 pages | 6 x 9 | 75 b&w photos |

Since the late nineteenth century, Brazilians have turned to documentaries to explain their country to themselves and to the world. In a magisterial history covering one hundred years of cinema, Darlene J. Sadlier identifies Brazilians’ unique contributions to a diverse genre while exploring how that genre has, in turn, contributed to the making and remaking of Brazil.

A Century of Brazilian Documentary Film is a comprehensive tour of feature and short films that have charted the social and political story of modern Brazil. The Amazon appears repeatedly and vividly. Sometimes—as in a prize-winning 1922 feature—the rainforest is a galvanizing site of national pride; at other times, the Amazon has been a focus for land-reform and Indigenous-rights activists. Other key documentary themes include Brazil’s swings from democracy to dictatorship, tensions between cosmopolitanism and rurality, and shifting attitudes toward race and gender. Sadlier also provides critical perspectives on aesthetics and media technology, exploring how documentaries inspired dramatic depictions of poverty and migration in the country’s Northeast and examining Brazilians’ participation in streaming platforms that have suddenly democratized filmmaking.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. The Jungle and the City: Modernity in Two 1920s Documentaries
  • Chapter 2. Government Educational Shorts, Bandit Footage, and Vera Cruz Documentaries
  • Chapter 3. Documentary and Cinema Novo
  • Chapter 4. Documentary, Dictatorship, and Repression
  • Chapter 5. Biographies of a Sort, Part I (1974–1989)
  • Chapter 6. Documenting Identity
  • Chapter 7. Biographies of a Sort, Part II (1994–2016)
  • Chapter 8. The City and the Countryside
  • Epilogue: A Country in Crisis
  • Filmography
  • Notes
  • Works Cited
  • Index

Darlene J. Sadlier is a professor emerita of Spanish and Portuguese at Indiana University. She is the author of Brazil Imagined: 1500 to the Present, Americans All: Good Neighbor Cultural Diplomacy in World War II, and The Portuguese-Speaking Diaspora: Seven Centuries of Literature and the Arts.


“Darlene Sadlier weaves rich descriptions of films with production histories and the histories of distribution, exhibition, and reception against the backdrop of shifting political and economic circumstances in Brazil. This will be an important reference for students and educators who may be unfamiliar with Brazil and documentary filmmaking.”

—Leslie Marsh, author of Branding Brazil: Transforming Citizenship on Screen

“This book represents a major contribution to the English-language literature on both Brazilian cinema and the history of documentary.  While a handful of the films discussed here have been analyzed in existing English-language studies, the majority have not, and this publication therefore significantly broadens and deepens the understanding of one of South America’s most important national film traditions as well as that of nonfiction cinema internationally.”

—Jesse Lerner, author of The Maya of Modernism