Germany’s Role in the Brazilian Cultural Landscape


Sarah Goifman studied International Relations and Economics at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG) and was an assistant researcher sponsored by CNPq and FAPEMIG for two years. She currently pursues her Master’s at the Department of International Relations of the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais (PUC-Minas). She is member of the study group Centro de Estudos em Processos Decisórios e Política Externa (CEPDE) of the graduate program of International Relations of PUC-Minas that researches decision-making and foreign policy currently focusing on the international actions of Brazilian federal states. She currently interns in teaching ‘Introduction to International Relations’ and ‘Foreign Policy Analysis’ in the undergraduate program of International Relations in PUC-Minas. She was a visiting student during her undergraduate studies at the Hochschule Rhein-Waal in Germany with a DAAD scholarship. Her main research interests include the European Union, German Foreign Policy and Paradiplomacy.


Brazil | May 19, 2020 | Analysis Article

When Germany and Brazil’s bilateral relations come to mind, one usually takes into consideration the strong economic relations. However, the German-Brazilian relations go beyond this and there have been interesting developments in the cultural sphere. This article aims to bring attention to Brazilian cinema and Germany’s involvement with it, highlighting a different approach to this bilateral relationship.

Prioritization of culture is an established domestic public policy in Germany, funded by the Federal Government and the Länder, the German states. Cultural relations and educational policy appear as the third pillar of German Foreign Policy, comprising of the German Foreign Cultural and Educational Policy (Deutsche Auswärtige Kultur und Bildungspolitik  (AKBP)). The main structural points of AKBP are (i) the creation of de-politicized freedom for dialogue and discourse; (ii) building trust points of contact with German culture and; (iii) supporting civil society and free media. The main foreign policy gains expected are (i) promotion of liberal-democratic values; (ii) European Integration and; (iii) generate a positive image of Germany.

Keeping in mind Joseph Nye’s (1990; 2008) concept of soft power and the ways in which culture forms one of the power resources in a globalized and interdependent world, it is important to identify the sponsorship of Brazilian cinema as a form of soft power developed by Germany. It can be understood as an effort to expand Germany’s influence and increase their standing as an international partner to their South American counterpart while supporting values and ideas compatible with German interests in the international arena – the guidelines of AKBP. The German-Brazilian cinema relationship however should be understood as mutually beneficial because it is also positive for Brazilian culture internationalization.

This can also be perceived as a form of Brazilian soft power through Nye’s (1990; 2008) approach, and supportive of domestic film industry. As for the way Brazil receives this German soft power, the foreign policy of the country seeks to have a more independent contribution to global affairs and diversification of partners in the 21st Century, especially under President Lula’s (Cervo, Bueno; 2011). The growing cooperation with Germany in cinema, although timid, is part of this strategy. The liberal-democratic values and freedom of art productions sponsored by Germany were part of a consensus in the cultural area of Brazil until the 2016 impeachment that marked the start of change in domestic policies mirrored in Brazil’s international policy.

German-Brazilian Cinema Cooperation

An important document to understand this relationship is the bilateral Cinematographic Co-Production agreement between Germany and Brazil (2005) that allows binational co-productions to have access to financial opportunities offered to nationals in both countries. This agreement means that Brazilian films, if co-produced with German partners, have access to German domestic cinema funds and vice-versa. Good examples are “Futuro Beach” (2014) and “The Invisible life of Eurídice Gusmão” (2019) by Karim Ainouz developed in co-production with the German producers Hank Levine Film, DETAiLFILM, Watchman Film Production Berlin and Pola Pandora. “Futuro Beach” premiered in the Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin – known as Berlinale – running for the Golden Bear, the main award of the festival. “The Invisible life of Eurídice Gusmão” is another success story and received the main prize of the category Un Certain Regard of Cannes Film Festival, becoming the first Brazilian film to win one of the main prizes in the festival. The production also represented Brazil in the 2020 Oscars, although it did not make it to the final nominees. Ainouz’s films benefited from both German and Brazilian public funds as the Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg, regional fund from the Berlin-Brandenburg, and Brazilian Audiovisual Fund (Fundo Setorial do Audiovisual) (Revista De Cinema, 2019) sponsored them in the terms of Co-production Agreement.

It is interesting to point out that Brazilian films, such as Ainouz’s, have been able to access German funds since 2005. Beyond Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg, the German Federal Film Fund (Deutscher Filmförderfonds (DFFF)) as well as other regional funds from the German Länders are important sponsors. It is important to regard that Länder have financial and policy autonomy in many aspects, cultural policy being one important subsidized area where ‘cultural sovereignty’ of the Länder prevails. For example, “Exodus” (2014) is a partnership between Hank Levine Film (Germany) and O2 Films (Brazil). The production is partly funded by DFFF and Film- und Medienstiftung NRW, regional fund of Nordrhein Westfalen.

Another funding example is Berlinale’s financial fund to support projects in foreign countries: the World Cinema Fund(WCF). The WCF is the festival’s initiative together with German Federal Foundation for Culture and in cooperation with Goethe Institute, Germany’s Foreign Ministry and German producers to fund production and distribution in Germany of foreign feature films and feature-length documentaries from regions of weaker film infrastructures. The fund is regarded as part of AKBP, as seen in their 2018 report. Some Brazilian films that have received resources from WCF are “The Fever” (2019) by Maya Da-Rin, “The Trial” (2018) by Maria Augusta Ramos and “FilmPhobia” (2008) by Kiko Goifman. “The Fever” was awarded in Locarno Film Festival, Festival Biarritz Amérique Latine and Festival de Brasília. “The Trial” got recognition in Berlinale, Festival IndieLisboa and Visions du Réel. “FilmPhobia” was exhibited in the Locarno Film Festival and won many awards in Festival de Brasília. The films sponsored are mostly a mix of fiction and documentary with themes of poverty, human rights abuses, feminist critiques to society and democracy. It is also important to recognize the sponsorship of independent art films as well.

Another experience of German support is illustrated by Claudia Priscilla and Kiko Goifman’s film “Tranny Fag” (2018) which won the Teddy award for Best Documentary Film. The Teddy Award is part of the Berlinale and dedicated to LGBT+ focused films. The Goethe Institut São Paulo sponsored the travel expenses of Linn da Quebrada – the Brazilian trans artist who stars in the documentary -, to the award ceremony in Berlin. It is important to highlight this action in a scenario where “Tranny Fag” received great public reviews in Berlin, while facing an unwelcome reception from the Brazilian government, including an incident of censorship. The state oil company Petrobras, a sponsor of Festival do Rio and Festival de Brasília in 2018, was responsible for prizes up to R$ 200.000,00 (approximately US$ 34.000,00). Despite advertising Petrobras as their sponsor, five winners, “Tranny Fag” included, did not receive the prize in early 2019. At least three of these films have LGBT themes that go against the ideological wing of Bolsonaro’s government, then recently elected, as the newspaper Folha de São Paulo stated. (Without the prize, the films had their premieres in Brazilian cinema delayed. “Tranny Fag” only premiered in Brazil by November 2019 and still is on judicial process to receive the prize it earned.

Room for More Cooperation

Although the German-Brazilian partnerships have made fruitful cooperation in cinema recent years, there are relatively few success stories of co-production if compared with other Latin American countries. Therefore, there is still room for this partnership to develop further especially taking in consideration the demand by Brazilian directors and producers, who are facing problems receiving domestic funding. President Bolsonaro has made declarations threatening to close ANCINE – the National Agency that foments and regulates national cinema -, and declared that the government should censor the films that are produced with public funds. Bolsonaro also cut funds of Brazilian Audiovisual Fund by 43% and nominated a controversial new head of ANCINE. Consequently, foreign sponsors are needed more than ever to keep independent productions and circumvent government censorship.

The AKBP is an important soft power tool for Germany. This German-Brazilian partnership had positive results for Brazilian cinema’s international projection, collecting many awards and recognition in key film festivals, which is important to the diffusion of Brazilian art and soft power as well. It has promoted good will and elevated the image of Germany as a good partner in this mutually beneficial relationship. Nonetheless there have been important shifts in Brazilian foreign policy under Bolsonaro that may hinder further German-Brazilian cooperation. This should be seen in the context of Bolsonaro’s unusual posture towards United Nations resolutions on Human Rights due to the use of terms related to LGBT+ rights and gender equality and diplomatic incidents such as Bolsonaro saying he had no doubt that Nazism was leftist movement after a visit to the Yad Vashem in Israel. With regards to Brazilian foreign cultural policy, the country has been experiencing difficult times, due in no small part to the economic and political turmoil of recent years, that have kept the government occupied in the domestic arena.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS | The author would like to thank Paulo de Carvalho and Kiko Goifman for the fruitful conversations that inspired this article.


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