Anyone who sees a photograph of Getúlio Vargas smiling, admiring the work of the American sculptor John Davidson, cannot imagine what he would later write in his diary, about the fact that he posed for the bust: “Whenever I can, I avoid these poses, which I find it very unpleasant”. Both moments are in the documentary Images of the Estado Novo 1937-1945, with additional details – and essential to understand the act. The sculptor was an envoy of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who, in July 1941, was committed to breaking the ambiguity of the Brazilian dictator. Even before the outbreak of the Second World War, Getúlio oscillated between aligning Brazil with the United States or with Adolf Hitler's Germany.

Four hours long, Pictures of Estado Novo uses on a large scale official films and photographs, most of them produced by the Estado Novo Press and Propaganda Department (DIP), the authoritarian regime implemented by Getúlio in November 1937, which lasted until January 1946. Directed by Eduardo Escorel and produced by Cláudio Kahns, the documentary also gathers material from German, American, Italian, French, English archives, as well as domestic films, with scenes from the daily life of the time. Regarding the use of propaganda produced by the Estado Novo itself, Escorel recalls that the documentary tries to question the images at all times: “This question has the function of calling the attention of the spectator not to take the images at their face value, to perceive that there is something beyond.”

Among the rare images of the documentary are scenes filmed by German filmmakers in Rio de Janeiro, such as a parade of members of a school ship from Germany, who displayed the Nazi flag along Flamengo Beach and Rio Branco Avenue. “In the South, this was perhaps more predictable. Even so, the scenes of sailors dancing in Blumenau, around a pole with the Nazi flag, are surprising”, says the filmmaker. About to be released in theaters and, in five episodes, on television, Pictures of Estado Novo It is the fourth film in a historical series. The series began in the 1990s and includes two medium-length films (1930 - Time of Revolution e 32 - The Civil War) and the feature film 35 – The Assault on Power.

Brasileiros – I begin with a question from the film itself. What was it like to make a documentary about the Estado Novo using, to a large extent, images produced for the regime's propaganda?

Eduardo Escorel – This interrogation explains the very title of the film. The documentary is called Pictures of Estado Novo precisely because it proposes to be not only about facts of a historical character, but also, perhaps even mainly, about the images of the Estado Novo. The documentary tries to interrogate the images at all times, to question what they represent. This question has the function of calling the viewer's attention not to take the images at face value, to realize that there is something beyond what the images are showing. An exegesis can and must be made of each image. So, now in retrospect, I would say that, yes, it is possible to make a documentary about the Estado Novo using footage originally produced as propaganda.

As long as the images are questioned?

As long as you don't take these images at face value. If this were not the case, not only this one, but most archival documentaries, could not be made. In this type of archival documentary, images that were produced for another purpose are used. And the distortion that occurs in the history of documentary cinema comes precisely from the fact that these images are taken only as an illustration of a text, as if they were the direct representation of reality. What this documentary and others seek to question is a more consolidated thought, that images are not a window on the world. Images are the result of a certain intention, made with a certain objective. So, to use them for a different purpose from which they were produced, it is necessary to make this explicit to the spectator, to question their meaning.

“Using family footage is part of the attempt not to give official images the primacy of being the record of period and history”

So it is not by chance that you are the narrator of the documentary.

It is not by chance that I personally do the narration, although it is not in the first person or of a personal nature. In previous documentaries in the series, I used actors or narrators. In this one, the fact that I narrate, somehow, gives a more personal tone to the narrative, even for not being a trained voice or a voice with projection worthy of a television announcer.

Pictures of Estado Novo is coming after three previous documentaries. How was that process?

This series began in 1990, with a commission from the São Paulo State Department of Culture, when Fernando Morais was the secretary. Two of his advisors, André Singer and Cláudio Kahns, had the idea of ​​making a kind of didactic package about the so-called Revolution of 1930. Inside this package, there was a documentary, which I ended up making. At that time, there was no idea of ​​doing a series. When the documentary was finished and was shown on the then TV Manchete, in December 1990, the reception was very favorable. At that moment, the idea arose of making a large series, from 1930 to 1985, at the end of the military regime. We then started to formulate this project.

Through the producer Tatu?

All through Tatu, the producer of Cláudio Kahns. Only the first documentary was produced by Videofilmes, from Rio, for the Secretary of Culture. At the time, Cláudio was an advisor to Fernando Morais, he could not produce personally. Anyway, the project of making this great series until 1985 is underway. We couldn't do it all at once. In 1992 or 1993 we made a documentary about 32, which is called 32 - The Civil War. Then we started making a documentary about 1935, which also took many years to complete.

It's 35 - The Assault on Power?

That. It's already a bigger documentary. There are two parts, 50-something minutes. In 2003, we started to make a documentary about the Estado Novo, which tries to cover several aspects of a longer period, but the reason for the delay is essentially financial. We've never had the resources to produce this series in a more reasonable time all at once. It took 12 years to complete.

And how much research time? The work attracts attention.

The search was extensive. I honestly wouldn't know how to quantify it, even because, with great interruptions, until practically the last day, documents continued to be sought. The research extended across Europe. Our researcher went to Germany to get German images from the 1930s. In the United States it's simpler, because you can do a lot on the Internet, but it was personally researched at the Library of Congress.

I noticed that there is also material from South Carolina.

There was no need to go there. Today it works over the Internet. They have the material indexed, you order a working copy, and you do the editing with that copy. Then you license whatever you use in the movie.

In Europe, is the process similar?

It depends. There's a lot of digitized stuff. In Germany, they did not have digitized images. They were on film. Then, a recording was made by the researcher himself, with an amateur camera, of the screen on the editing table. As he watched, he recorded. We edit with that recording. Then, when we licensed the images, they digitized and telecinerated the snippets we wanted to use. In other places, in France, England, Italy, depending on the collection, there is already a lot of digitized stuff. Sometimes you can download it from the Internet, watch it and then license it. It varies a lot.

It's in Brazil?

The main source was the Cinemateca Brasileira. We were able to catch a period when the Cinemateca Brasileira was very active, with a lot of people, and they served the project magnificently. We had access to a lot. I watched practically all the DIP newspapers. There are six or seven years of newsreels, almost weekly. And much of this material is preserved in excellent condition. As for family films, most are also deposited at the Cinemateca Brasileira. Only a few were obtained directly from the families.

In this search, what was your biggest surprise?

A great revelation was the German material, the presence of the Nazi flag parading through Praia do Flamengo and Avenida Rio Branco. In the South, this was perhaps more predictable. Even so, the scenes of sailors dancing in Blumenau, around a pole with the Nazi flag, are surprising. So the German stuff was a big revelation. I believe they are unpublished images. In Brazilian terms, I believe that no one has ever seen those images. They were made by the Germans themselves.

Eduardo Escorel, Director of Images for the Estado Novo 1937-1945 (Photo: Personal archive)
Eduardo Escorel, Director of Images for the Estado Novo 1937-1945 (Photo: Personal archive)

For the German newsreel?

Yup. Until Brazil entered the war or until the beginning of the Second World War, which is a little earlier, there was a large presence of Germany in the country. Occasional cameramen came to Brazil to film the German presence here.

When you show the beginning of World War II, with the invasion of Poland, you inform that the scene shown is a reenactment, made by German soldiers. Made for whom?

For the German newsreel, to show the German people the invasion, because they couldn't show the night bombing. The use of re-enactment is a very common practice in war films and reports. It's pretty much in widespread use. But, in general, the spectator is not informed that it is a reenactment. And the viewer, poor thing, thinks he's watching what happened at the moment it happened. As for the invasion of Poland, which started the war, it would be difficult for a camera to be in that position, at the exact moment, and everything to work correctly in relation to the equipment.

And the soldier lifts the gate and removes the Polish emblem as if following a script.

With the camera filming. The soldier may have done it, but the camera would not have been there at that moment, in that place. But that wasn't just the Germans who did it. Americans used this feature a lot in Italy. It's something in common use, mainly because of the difficulty of filming at the time, because of the weight of the cameras, the equipment. During World War II, they developed lighter equipment, which allowed for greater agility and such. But the equipment and filming conditions did not favor anything similar to what was possible, for example, in the 1960s, in the Vietnam war, when much was filmed, mainly by the Americans, without being staged.

And the images of Getúlio, with the American sculptor, sent to Brazil by President Roosevelt?

There are two collections. Some of those photos are from the CPDOC (Center for Research and Documentation of Contemporary History), from Fundação Getúlio Vargas. They belong to Getúlio's own collection. Another set, less known, is deposited in the National Archives.

How did the idea of ​​mixing everyday, familiar scenes with official scenes come about?

This is part of the attempt not to give the images produced by the Estado Novo itself the primacy and exclusivity of being the record of the period and history. There is an attempt to narrate the period through different points of view. It has the point of view of the official DIP newsreel, but it has the point of view of American, German, etc. newsreels. It has the point of view of family filming, which has nothing to do directly with political events, but is part of the daily life of a period. It has Getúlio's own point of view, through his diary. It has the point of view of the people who wrote letters to Getúlio. This multiplicity helps answer that first question you asked. It is thanks to this, in large part, that it is possible to make a film, even using advertising images.

There are scenes of Getúlio playing golf, in moments of leisure. Why is there no reference to Aimée Sotto Mayor, Getúlio's lover, married to his chief of staff, from whom you show a letter?

It's not the subject of the movie. Getúlio is an important, crucial character, but it is not a film about Getúlio. If it were a biography about Getúlio, this might not have been left out, because in his diary there are numerous references to the meetings. It was already a problem, for the length of the feature film, to handle this period. To get into this matter of his private life, his marriage, his lover, it would be more difficult.

Another character I missed was Olga Benário (German of Jewish origin, deported by the Vargas government to Nazi Germany).

Olga is an important character in the previous documentary, 35 – The Assault on Power. And her story is told in detail. As it's a series, you can't tell the same story twice. At the end of 35- The Assault on Power, the documentary advances in time and tells of her death, including the place where she died (Bernburg concentration camp, Germany).

The raging sea hitting the wall, with Rio de Janeiro in the background, marks the opening of each episode for television. Is the building in the background the Hotel Glória?

IT IS. That's the hangover at Praia do Flamengo, long before the landfill. A hangover that was a notorious event in the city, because it hit really hard there. It flooded everything. There are certain things that, if explained, lose a little of the mystery. It's there because, first of all, it's beautiful. That's reason enough to be there. And then there are other possible meanings, the question of the crashing sea, of time passing, repetition. It has several possible connotations.

It also refers to the turmoil of the period itself. At the end of this endeavor, what image did you have of the Estado Novo?

It's complicated. It is a fierce dictatorship, a repressive regime, during which many people suffered a lot. And, at the same time, it is a period of modernization in Brazil, in which there are changes in labor relations. So, it is a moment in the history of Brazil marked by strong contrasts and contradictions. And it is a period that tends to be forgotten or left aside. There is a lot of talk about Getúlio from 1950, about the president-elect, about suicide. There is less talk of Getúlio's authoritarian vocation, which was very deep-rooted. He was far from a Democrat. For him, he would continue for another 20 years at the helm of Brazil.

“Getúlio was a skilful politician, capable of having people with very different tendencies around him. And mediate those interests.”

One of the important aspects of the period was industrialization, starting with the creation of the Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional. Taking the Estado Novo as a reference, how do you analyze the moment we are experiencing today? It looks like the opposite, a takedown.

We get involved in making films and sometimes there is an assumption of having the authority to talk about certain things. We are living in a very different period from that and I find it difficult to establish a correlation. Brazil has changed a lot, in many ways. Some, for the better. Others, perhaps for the worse. I would not venture to make a comparison between what we are experiencing today and the Estado Novo period, even because I am living this current period and that period I only know from hearsay. I am post-Estado Novo.

Labor laws were consolidated precisely at that period, right?

In my opinion, these bridges are a bit misleading. I find it difficult to want to establish relationships. As the documentary itself says, it is undeniable that the creation of the CLT (Consolidation of Labor Laws), the work card and the minimum wage played an important role at that time. There was industrial development. It is also undeniable that Brazil benefited economically during the Second World War. All this took place under a very repressive dictatorial regime. Today we live in a different situation, certainly more complex than that of the Estado Novo, because of what Brazil has grown, because of the population it has, because of the inequalities that persist, because of the international situation, the moment of uncertainty, with the madness that is happening in United States. We are living through a very complicated period. There are risks of this right-wing populism becoming even stronger in Europe. And this uncertainty in Brazil about what will happen. So, it is very difficult to understand, in the heat of the moment, what we are living, where it is going, and even more to compare it with a period of 70, 80 years ago.

And what do you emphasize in relation to the documentary?

The aspect that I always like to emphasize is this attempt to make a film that, without giving up the history of the Estado Novo, is also, at least in an equivalent way, a film about images, about documents. On the other hand, I think it is very important to clarify Getúlio's dictatorial profile, the vocation he brings from the pampas, the authoritarian vocation that comes from positivism, from disbelief in relation to democracy. In relation to today, the fact that democracy is resisting, despite everything, is a positive fact. In the end, it might not make things much easier, but it's a positive thing. Getting to know the Estado Novo, the authoritarian face of Getúlio and other characters who are generally not talked about much, such as Osvaldo Aranha with his ties to the United States, the generals with his fascination with Germany, all of this is important data in the documentary.

He, Getúlio, oscillates between the United States and Germany, he is equidistant, to use a term used in the documentary. In the end, he takes advantage.

One thing is undeniable. Getúlio was a very skilled politician. The documentary shows this. It's a virtue. He was a skilled politician, able to surround himself with people with very different tendencies and inclinations. He mediates these interests. In addition, he is able to create his own myth. When he did away with political parties, he announced that intermediaries had been abolished and that the population could communicate directly with him, people believed. And they began to write letters to him, for more prosaic reasons. There the myth of Getúlio, the father of the country, was born.

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