VIDEOBRASIL 40 | 3rd Videobrasil

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posted on 11/03/2022


As the dictatorship collapses, video fights its way to TV


In 1985, it could no longer be said that video was exactly a novelty in the lives of Brazilians. Still seen as innovative, and even if not fully democratized in such an unequal country, the media quickly spread through sectors of society and within the artistic class. In this context — in the year that officially marks the end of the Brazilian civil-military dictatorship (1964–1985) — the 3rd Festival Fotoptica Videobrasil* was held.

In order to contextualize the period, it is worth mentioning, at the outset, an excerpt from the event's introductory text, written by Fotoptica's chairman, Thomaz Farkas: “Soviet cinema invented the ‘cine-eye.’ We are going to introduce the ‘video-eye.’ Much larger, more accessible, luckily, with a chance of escaping the Orwellian gaze, as it offers the opportunity of choosing. According to estimates, we must have more than a million VCRs currently in use. Much more than movie projectors. They are, after all, much simpler, easier and can be in everyone's homes.” And Farkas was not just talking about a new market, as can be seen in the follow up: “We believe that this will be a characteristic, rampant and overwhelming cultural fact.”


After two years at the Museu da Imagem e do Som, which at that time was undergoing renovation, the festival was held at the Sérgio Cardoso Theater, in São Paulo, between October 21 and 27, 1985: works in competition, retrospectives, exhibition, performances and debates agitated the venue. Regarding more general characteristics of the edition, we can speak of a maturation of video production and a decrease in the critical tone in relation to network TV. This did not mean, however, a retraction in the discussion about the state monopoly of broadcasters, with a growing demand for the democratization of access and ownership of broadcasting media in Brazil. The space given to the so-called video theater, represented by Otávio Donasci, was also highlighted in the edition.

Despite a notable effervescence in the cultural milieu, the 3rd Festival takes place amidst a somewhat anticlimactic political scenario: after the failure of popular outcry for direct elections for president, the Electoral College opted for Tancredo Neves — who opposed the military regime — which felt like a relative victory. With his death, however, José Sarney, a historical supporter of the dictatorship, takes the chair. This context did not stop Videobrasil from being a space for strengthening the demands linked to the idea of democratization: among them, the debate on the Antena Livre project, a campaign for the concession of a UHF channel for independent production — that is, the creation of a channel that would open the doors to the growing video production. Even if not victorious, the campaign set the scene for significant change years later.



As Gabriel Priolli explains in a text for the book on the 30 years of Videobrasil, “the explosion of independent video in the first half of the 1980s gave momentum to the free radio movement, which quickly also included television, and evolved into a proposal of ‘agrarian reform for the airwaves’.” Further on, he adds that many of the proposals were included in the Federal Constitution of 1988 and in the Cable TV Law of 1995.

Priolli points out, however, that the biggest victories of independent video at first took place in the “opponent’s field.” In other words, more than the formal debates promoted, changes began with the inclusion of independent video shows in the dominant network TV. Examples include Olhar Eletrônico on Fantástico and Armação Ilimitada, both on Globo; Fábrica do Som on TV Cultura, or TV Mix on Gazeta — the channel that was the most welcoming to independent video.

A long article in Veja magazine, in the week of the 3rd Festival, developed on the topic: “Within only three years, the video generation ceased to be seen as kids who wanted to play television to be taken seriously by the top professionals of the biggest national networks. It took a decade for the Cinema Novo generation to solidify, at a much higher financial cost. (...) For young video producers, the pace is much faster.” Even so, it is necessary to emphasize, according to Videobrasil’s founder and director, Solange Farkas, that the entry of video into TV was timid and incipient, even if it generated a certain degree of euphoria.

Press and Competitive Exhibition

For the third year in a row, the event was widely covered by the press, which highlighted the increasing quality of the works — in contrast to the negative reviews published during the previous year's event. “Matured productions marked the 3rd Vídeo Brasil,” headlined Folha de S.Paulo. The maturity on the screen did not mean an opposition to the youth of the participants, as an excerpt from the text of Jornal da Tarde said: “Young people with very short hair, partially illuminated by the lights of monitors, the videographers already form a large group: together, they managed to fill the lobby, mezzanine and auditorium of the Sérgio Cardoso Theater.”

One of the groups that spearheaded this maturing process was Olhar Eletrônico, which, quite young, was given a retrospective at the event, with 12 works presented. But, in addition to turn the spotlights to the youth, the third festival also presented an exhibition dedicated to Brazil’s video pioneers. As a result of a project to restore the works, which would also generate the Videoteca Videobrasil, the Pioneiros [Pioneers] exhibition was organized (curated by Lucila Meireles), which screened works by artists who were active as early as the 1970s. Among the 35 works presented were videos by Anna Bella Geiger, Ivens Machado, Regina Silveira, Julio Plaza, José Roberto Aguilar, Carmela Gross, Lenora de Barros and Wesley Duke Lee — many of which produced with the encouragement of Professor Walter Zanini, then director of MAC/USP, which had brought a piece of equipment from abroad (a Portapak), not yet sold in Brazil.

But, as always, attentions were turned to the Competitive Exhibition. For this, of the 98 works submitted, 50 were selected. Among the participating artists were such names as Carlos Porto, Celso Fioravante, Cláudio Barroso, Claudio Ferrario, Eder Santos, Eduardo Homem, Geraldo Anhaia Mello, Gil Ribeiro, José Luiz Nogueira, Luiz Algarra, Marcus Vinícius Araújo Nascimento, Moysés Baumstein, Pedro Vieira, Renato Bulcão, TVDO, Valéria Burgos and Walter Silveira.

Five works received the special award: Mulher Índia, by Lili Bandeira, a report on the life of the Indigenous women in a Guarani village near São Paulo; Terra Santa, by Rita Moreira, a "religious" reading of a landless workers camp; Existirmos... a que será que se destina, a mockumentary by the collective Todo Mundo Vídeo; Meu desejo é cansaço, by Leonardo and Margot Crescenti, a video that shows the slow body movements of a young woman in her bed; and Seres Noturnos, by Ruth Slinger, a fictional fashion clip in which actors and models move around landmarks in São Paulo.



There were also other awards, this time split between U-matic and VHS (the two main video production technologies used at the time). The categories included best video, documentary, experimental work and fiction. In addition to them, the VHS Grand Prize was awarded to Vídeo noir, by Eduardo Oinegue, Geni Kikuta, Luiz Claudio Lins and Renato Delmanto, a work that pays homage to the aesthetics of 1940s Hollywood detective films; and the U-matic Grand Prize was given to Amigo urso, by TV Viva, a comedy show about the character known in Brazil as corno — the cuckold — shot on the streets of Recife by the character/reporter Brivaldo.

Finally, the Popular Jury prize was granted to another comedy show, 55, a themed program about Halley's comet with a newscast, product ads created as an homage to the comet and an interview with Halley, played by actor Marcelo Mansfield. Once again, as in the previous year, humor emerged as a big niche for video production, showing a path that would have great influence on network TV in the following years.

Other activities

Another highlight of the festival was the participation of Otávio Donasci, with his performances throughout the event. Also having taken part in the first two editions of Videobrasil, Donasci deepened his research on performance and what he called “videotheater.” In a text published at the time, he stated: “It would be very rich for theater if it could incorporate video as a tool for the language of drama. It would be very rich for human expression if we could incorporate video, which is the synthesis of techno-images, with theater, which has the live author as its main focus of expression. It was with this in mind that the videotheater was born.”

From then on, his performances in that edition were Videotauro – in which a horse with a TV monitor in place of its head roamed the streets of the neighborhood of Bixiga; Videocriaturas, in which one of them strolled through the exhibition while the other two fought the martial art of kendo; Videossinfonia; and A Máscara Eletrônica, a project in which the actor's facial expression was seen in the “videoface."

Finally, it is worth noting as important activities of the 3rd Festival the exhibition of the Conexão Internacional program, an interview with the Argentine writer Jorge Luís Borges; the Fernando Gabeira Exhibition, a collection of the author's video works – addressing such topics as pesticides, HIV, nuclear waste, homeless people etc., with a politicized bias; and the screening of the documentary Gay Pride Parade, by Cândido José Mendes Almeida and Hélio Alvarez, about the annual gay parade in New York (in Brazil, the event only appeared much later, in 1997). Additionally, the exhibition A Arte na Trama Eletrônica brought together five Videotext graphic artists from different countries, organized by Rodolfo Cittadino, an Egyptian artist of Italian origin based in Brazil.


By Marcos Grinspum Ferraz

*the title used to name the main exhibition organized by Videobrasil, now called Biennial Sesc_Videobrasil, has undergone adjustments over the years. The changes were based on the organizers' perception of the features of each edition, especially in regards to its format; duration; frequency; partnerships with other companies and institutions; and the expansion of the artistic languages showcased. The main adjustments to the titles of the exhibitions were: inserting the name of the partner company Fotoptica between the 2nd (1984) and 8th (1990) editions; including the word “international” between the 8th and 17th (2011) editions, from the moment the event starts to receive foreign artists and works intensively; using the term “electronic art” between the 10th (1994) and 16th (2007) editions, when the organizers realize that referring only to video did not account for all the works presented; including the name of Sesc, the show's main partner in the last three decades, from the 16th edition onwards; and replacing “electronic art” with “contemporary art” between the 17th and 21st (2019) editions, as the focus expands to varied artistic languages. The most recent change took place in 2019, in the 21st edition, when the name “festival” was replaced with “biennial,” a term more appropriate to an event that was already being held biannually and with an exhibition duration of months, not weeks.



Images: Videobrasil Historical Collection

1. Poster of the third Videobrasil, by Bill Martinez.

Gallery 1
1. "Amigo Urso", by TV Viva.
2. Audience at the Sérgio Cardoso Theater.
3. "Videotauro", performance by Otávio Donasci.
4. Cacá Rosset, Tadeu Jungle and Thomaz Farkas.
5. "UBU - Folias Physicas Pataphysicas e Musicaes", by Pedro Vieira and TVDO.
6. Walter Silveira and Tadeu Jungle.

Gallery 2
1. Sérgio Cardoso Theater Stage.
2. "Homenagem a George Segal", by Lenora de Barros and Walter Silveira.
3. "Amigo Urso" team at the awards.
4. "Video Noir", by Eduardo Oinegue, Geni Kikuta, Luiz Claudio Lins and Renato Delmanto.
5. Walter Durst, Walcyr Carrasco and Carlos Lombardi.
6. "Seres noturnos", by Ruth Slinger.