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Another year, another coup d’état, another film

DMovies remembers the 1993 doc Beyond Citizen Kane and the 2016 Brazilian coup d'état in an interview with the film producer John Ellis, as we make a very exciting announcement

One of the most interesting things about the anti-coup protests in Brazil is the way that the Brazilian mainstream media in general, and Rede Globo in particular (Brazil’s most powerful broadcaster), is being blamed for the recent political events in the country. This point-of-view has been banalised to such an extent that nobody even thinks twice. But despite the number of articles about the involvement and the influence of the media in the 2016 coup d’état, no one has analysed this more in-depth.

This is why DMovies hopes to produce a sequel to the 1993 British documentary Beyond Citizen Kane on the history, development and power of Brazil’s most powerful media group – Rede Globo. Click here for more information about the original doc.

The new film provisionally entitled Globo and the Coup: Just History Repeating will incorporate footage from the original documentary, as well as that of recent events in Brazil and interview with leading politicians and media personalities. DMovies has the backing of John Ellis who produced the original documentary in partnership with Simon Hartog who died in 1992, just before its release.

DMovies will be running a crowdfunding initiative in the first semester of 2017 in order to make this happen. We also organised a screening of Beyond Citizen Kane in late 2016 at the Regent Street Cinema in London, followed by a Q&A with the John Ellis. The Brazilian-born and London based Julia Spatuzzi Felmanas had the opportunity to catch up with John and ask him a few dirty questions then. The producer of the controversial 1993 doc is now a TV producer and media theorist at the Royal Holloway University.


Julia Spatuzzi Felmanas – How is Brazil seen by the media in the UK?

John Ellis – Brazil has never received much coverage in the British media and when it did, it generally had to do with poverty, social problems, crime or the destruction of the environment. With Lula, there was more exposure, people started talking more about social issues, the struggle against hunger and South-South cooperation between nations. Things are a little different now. When we made Beyond Citizen Kane nobody knew the world ‘favela’, now you don’t need to translate it. And ‘favela’ in English does not necessarily have negative connotations, it is linked to self-organisation, resistance and the ability to survive.


Julia takes notes as she interviews Jonh after the DMovies screening of Beyond Citizen Kane at the Regent Street Cinema


JSF – Why were you interested in making a documentary about Rede Globo?

JE – It has always been Simon Hartog’s project. He was always interested in world cinema and was known as a radical director in the UK. He had already made a documentary about Samora Machel in Mozambique and he spoke Portuguese. He was also aware of the Brazilian Cinema Novo. He was first attracted to the pornochanchada (soft porn comedies) films produced in Brazil during the military dictatorship, as a way of criticising the regime. But Simon became interested in Rede Globo’s power.

JSF – Why did Channel 4 become interested in a project about Rede Globo, a TV company from a little-known country in the UK?

JE – Channel4’s interest was in documenting and criticising the media, especially the power of the media. It started as an alternative project. Its main objective had been to challenge the mainstream view in a minority channel. The documentary went out on TV at 10:30pm, it was seen by a small number of people, but it got a good response. The good thing about working there was that its lawyers were very rigorous, so we had to work hard to get the documentary approved. After Hartog’s death, I had to keep on improving it so as to fit within their standards.

Something else that attracted our attention with regard to Globo was the quality of its graphics, it was one of the best in the world at the time. And of course, it also lends credibility to the company and its productions.

Globo produced a brand, an identity. I was recently in Brazil, and I was amazed that nothing had changed, all its logos, etc. were all the same.

JSF – That’s not the case in the UK. The BBC, for example, changes its programmes, there’s a lot more change here.

JE – I think that when there is a lot of instability, like in the case of Brazil, people look for stability, and the unchanging Globo brand does this. Globo is also a very successful entertainment company. Part of its power comes from entertainment and not from its journalism. So why change, if it is working? Specially if there is not much competition.


Brazilian activists make their message clear during the DMovies screening of Beyond Citizen Kane at the Regent Street Cinema


JSF – How to you see the fact that the left, when they came to power, did not challenge the media, did not democratise it?

JE – This is a problem all over the world, not just in Brazil. There are two challenges, there’s communication and there are social problems. The question is which to address first? And invariably governments opt to deal with social problems before addressing the problem of the media that requires a certain mood on the part of society. But then, they leave it too late.

JSF – How do you see the fact that the Brazilian mainstream media ignores the views of a small but significant part of the Brazilian population? Sometimes they even demonize it. We know that this is taking place, because with the political polarisation, the alternative blogs have grown, as has the number of individuals who avoid getting their news from the mainstream media because of their political behaviour. Are they not shooting themselves in the foot? Would not this be a wrong decision to make, to ignore an entire market?

JE – As long as this number is low enough, it’s ok. The problem is that things are not static, and this number will tend to grow. If it is say, 20% now, that’s ok. But when it reaches 33%, we have a critical mass. Then it would not be good to ignore this many people.


John Ellis (right) with DMovies’ Editor Victor Fraga at the screening of Beyond Citizen Kane at the Regent Street Cinema


JSF – How did Rede Globo manage to become so powerful?

JE – Rede Globo is successful mainly because of its entertainment business. It is not possible to have a cultural hold through journalism alone. Take corruption, for example. How is corruption portrayed? It is not only through the news, but through the soap operas as well, through a cultural landscape. Soap operas express morality or ethics. With the British soap operas, it’s different, because they last a long time, not just some months like the Brazilian ones. So, the storylines need to be more complex. There’s not so much space for black and white morality in British soap operas.

JSF – Finally, what did you think of the BBC’s role in the Brexit debate?

JE – Here we have a different problem. The BBC, by law, needs to give equal space to all points of view during a political campaign. The problem was that the BBC applied this rule in a very simplistic way, as if it were a yes or no issue. It decided that just by giving the same right to express themselves to both sides, it would be applying the law. So, the BBC just broadcast facts without checking them, this led to distortions.


Click here for more information about Beyond Citizen Kane and here for more about the 2016 Brazilian coup d’état.

Stay tuned for more information the crowdfunding campaign of Globo and the Coup: Just History Repeating. Or e-mail us if at you want to find out more!

By Julia Spatuzzi Felmanas - 02-01-2017

As a filmgoer, what do I expect from films? They have to surprise me, transport me to a different world, make me feel and make me think, change my mind perhaps. I do not like formulaic cinema, so I t...

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