Starting a dialogue about Brazil with Mostra director Ariani Freidl

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From the documentary Only When I Dance, which screens Friday at DePaul
  • From the documentary Only When I Dance, which screens Friday at DePaul
In other news, today marks the beginning of Mostra, the annual Brazilian film series now entering its third year. In contrast to Chicago's numerous other film festivals, Mostra emphasizes the educational value of cinema in addition to its roles as entertainment and art. Indeed, all of the screenings take place on college campuses, with DePaul hosting tonight's opening program and upcoming events slated to occur at Northwestern, Northeastern, Roosevelt, and Columbia (an auxiliary event will take place at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana). The program is divided evenly between documentaries and fiction films, but all of the titles concern Brazilian history or contemporary social issues. You can check out the complete schedule here.

To learn about Mostra's selection process—and the aspects of Brazilian life it aims to inform Chicagoans about—I chatted recently with festival director Ariani Freidl. A partial transcript of our conversation follows the jump.

Ben Sachs: To start with a simple question, what does mostra mean?

Ariani Freidl: It means show or exhibition. In Brazil, it is used [to describe] all sorts of art exhibits—of painting, sculpture, film.

How did the festival come to partner with so many universities, and what was the inspiration for doing this?

There are Brazilian films that are exhibited every year in the [Chicago] International Film Festival and the Latino Film Festival, but there's such an incredible array of films other than those. But there's never an opportunity to show them outside of those two events, so we wanted to arrange some other dates where people could see them and discuss what's happening in Brazil. I had worked for the University of Illinois for many years as the Director of International Affairs, so I thought, "Maybe we can bring the films to the University of Illinois. And if that works, we can see if other universities are interested."

I wanted to show films that covered issues that were common not only in Brazil, but all over, so we could start discussions with professors, students, and the public in the general. Because we need to start finding solutions to some of these problems—problems of the environment, problems with race, problems with the native population . . . This year our opening night film, Xingu, is about the plight of Brazil's Indians.

It's important that people get to know more about Brazil than just Carnival and football and the music. That's very nice, but there's a lot more to Brazil!

Cinema can be a great tool for introducing people to new subjects, since there's always an aspect of entertainment in looking at moving pictures.

There is nothing better for portraying a culture, yes.

What areas of Brazilian culture do you think the United States most need to learn about?

You know, Brazil is such a large country. We have five regions that are very well defined, and each is so different than the others. When people travel, they go to Sao Paolo or Rio de Janeiro—and, of course, those very big metropolitan centers, but there's much else to the nation that needs to be understood.

In Xingu [which screens tonight at 7 PM], you see how people these different regions interact. It's a true story about these three brothers who were very well-to-do who decided to go to the jungle, because they wanted to see what it was like. And they were so taken by the culture of the Indians that they really got to know the people of the Xingu tribe. Knowing about [the tribe's] plight made them want to advocate for their rights. And it was because of them that this national park was created to protect Indians who were being decimated by the spread of white people's culture. It's a wonderful story.

It sounds like the movie gets into the race issues you mention.

And it's not only about Brazil's Indian population, but discrimination in general. It shows how hard it is to break through these prejudices and make the government pay attention.

From Xingu
  • From Xingu

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