In the midst of globalization, Brazil is still a nationalist country, rivalled by few others in the world. To what point are Brazilian intellectuals in general, and especially the integrants of the Cinema Novo movement, responsible for this?
Nelson Pereira dos Santos –
I believe that the main problem with nationalism is that it’s always an extremist philosophy: either far-right or extreme left-wing. On one side that fascist discourse, and on the other, the political idea that it’s necessary to close the country [to outsiders] so that Brazilians can enjoy our own riches. I think that both are completely wrong. Deep down, as Gilberto Freire shows us, our historical roots were never predominantly nationalistic: if you look closely, you’ll see that the Brazilian people have always defended their Portuguese roots above all. There was in point of fact a fashion for nationalism but cinema was always a bit outside of it. I, for example, have never defended the obligation to exhibit [Brazilian films]: this was an exhibition strategy mounted by the producers, desperate for commercial films to make money. In this sense, the function of Cinema Novo – its greatest concern – has always been to try to delve deep into Brazil’s social, cultural and political origins... and this, I repeat, is not nationalist. On the contrary: it’s an opening up, in search of the universal.

While we’re on the subject, do you still think that Cinema Novo was Brazil’s most important film movement?
Nelson –
My opinion would be a bit suspect, wouldn’t it? I don’t know if it is (or if it ever got to be) the most important movement. I do know that it had a decisive importance in the process of decolonisation of Brazilian cinema, inasmuch as it appropriated a universal cinematographic language and was able to combine that with the country’s cultural heritage. Cinema Novo managed to touch on many issues that were essential themes for Brazil in the 1960’s: the misery of the north-east of the country, the question of the cangaço (popular cowboy-like anti-hero)... But that’s not all it was: I normally say that Cinema Novo was the equivalent of what Di Cavalcanti and Portinari did in painting, Villa-Lobos in music and Oswald de Andrade, Mário de Andrade and Jorge Amado in literature.

A good deal of your work, in fact, is based on literary adaptations: Machado de Assis, Graciliano Ramos, Jorge Amado, Guimarães Rosa... Does cinema not yet have original thought?
Nelson –
My option of adapting literary works represents, above all, a tribute to Brazilian literature. Machado de Assis, with O alienista; Graciliano Ramos, with Vidas secas and Memórias do cárcere, Jorge Amado, with Jubiabá and Tenda dos Milagres... All are authors who helped form our image of Brazil. So when you’re going to make a film about the drought, who better than Graciliano Ramos to rise up to this historic moment? Who but Jorge Amado could speak about our mysticism and our miscegenation? My next work, on Gilberto Freyre, is also due to this recognition.

Television could be an important ally for Brazilian cinema?
Nelson –
Of course! I have no doubt that the television and the video will turn every house into a mini theatre. Of course there’s a big difference too. Eating on a porcelain plate, with silver service, is not the same as eating, for example, in a working-class canteen... A good auteur film, or even a film-spectacle like Titanic, are much better seen on the big screen, in flawless stereo. But what you lose in aesthetic terms is compensated by television’s great capacity for broadcasting, for a more democratic circulation of films.

One last, inevitable, question: how do you see the resurgence (in the mid-1990’s) of Brazilian cinema?
Nelson –
I’m accompanying it all with great optimism. It’s like I said at the start: the question of distribution must be tackled – and, thank God, it is! We’ve managed to disprove that lie, that the public, by definition, does not like Brazilian cinema.

from an interview in "Veredas" magazine, Banco do Brasil Cultural Centre, March 1998.