by Maria Rhodes, Rooftop’s Programming & Festival Coordinator
🇧🇷 Buy your tickets for our screening of The Edge of Democracy on Tuesday, June 11th, now! 🇧🇷
Brazil has a relatively young democracy. In January 1985, the country elected its first president after being ruled by the military for twenty-one years. A long battle fought by left wing intellectuals, unionists, and socialists ultimately led to many of them being put in prison, persecuted, or in hiding. In 1988, Brazil adopted a new constitution, and it looked like democracy in a country with a long history of violent coups would stick around for a long time. However, almost from the beginning, the presidents of this country were accused of corruption, money laundering, and bribery. Fernando Collor, who was the first to be elected under the new Constitution, was impeached in 1992 on charges of corruption. A string of candidates claiming to be vehemently against such criminality followed, only to be condemned, over and over again.
Then, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was elected in 2003. His legendary status as an agitator during the military rule was transformed into a centrist, pro-business man, capable of compromise. His rule was charmed; he elevated more than 30 million Brazilians out of poverty and had a staggeringly high approval rating over the two terms he served—the economy booming when he left. He then anointed the next presidential candidate, Dilma Rousseff.
Rousseff was a guerrilla during the military rule. She is straight-forward and no nonsense, and also became the first woman president of this young democracy. A couple of years into her first term, things started to go south. The economy collapsed, resulting in one of the worst recessions in Brazil’s history, followed by the scandal of Operation Car Wash. Operation Car Wash was a massive money laundering scheme that involved Pertrobas, the Brazilian government controlled petroleum company, resulting in Rousseff being brought to trial and impeached for corruption.
Lula was sentenced to jail for 25 years, and Rousseff’s vice president took leadership in 2016, enforcing massive austerity measures that limited many social programs installed by Lula. He was also accused of massive corruption. This is how the current president came to power.
Jair Bolsonaro has been described as the Trump of the Brazilian government, winning the election backed by a wave of Facebook & WhatsApp memes and pervasive proliferation of fake news. He’s almost comically conservative, saying things like he could “never love a gay son”; he’s broadly outspoken about his military career and takes utmost pride in it; he won in a landslide election. For many Brazilians, he mirrors the military rule that cast a long shadow over the country for 21 years.
Petra Costa chronicles this important and dramatic story in her new film, The Edge of Democracy, gaining incredibly impressive access to these major players of the Brazilian democracy through their rise and fall. However, this is more than a dry political piece. Instead, at every turn, the twists and turns seem to come about through her own personal observations, relating the story of her parents as radicals within the continuum Brazil becoming a democracy. At every turn, the political rivetingly becomes personal.
We’re screening it as a part of our Summer Series on June 11th at the William Vale—a particularly interesting place to show the film, as it reflects the architectural slickness of the presidential palace and congressional house Costa returns to again and again throughout the film. These impressive structures mirror and play off each other so well, we decided to place it there, it quickly becoming an immersive experience where the venue directly reflects what you’re seeing on screen.