São Paolo, 1928.
Educated in law; studied at IDHEC, Paris.
Journalist, editor at
Jornal do Brasil
, late 1940s; directed first feature,
Rio, quarenta graus
, 1955; teacher of cinema, University of Brasilia, from 1956; collaborated
on short films with I. Rozemberg and J. Manzon, 1958–60; director
of Department of Cinematographic Art, Federal University of
Nitéroi, from 1968; participated in founding of filmmakers'
cooperative, late 1970s; also editor and co-director of film revue
Luz e Açao.
Juventude (short); Atividades politicas em Sao Paolo (short)
Rio, quarenta graus ( Rio, 40 Degrees )
Rio, zona norte ( Rio, zone nord )
Soldados do fogo (short)
Part of a documentary on Karl Gass made in East Germany
Mandacaru vermelho (+ co-pr, role)
O Bôca de Ouro ; Ballet do Brasil (short)
Vidas secas ( Barren Lives ); Um môco de 74 anos (short)
O Rio de Machado de Assis (short)
El justiciero ( Le Justicier ) (+ co-pr)
Fome de amor ( Soif d'amour ); Abastecimento,nova política (short)
Azyllo muito louco ( L'Alieniste ) (co-d)
Como era gostoso o meu frances ( How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman ) (+ co-pr)
Quem e beta ( Pas de violence entre nous )
O Amuleta de Ogum ( The Amulet of Ogum ); Tenda dos milagres ( Tent of Miracles )
Na estrada da vida ( On the Highway of Life )
Memorias do carcere ( Memories of Jail )
A Terceira margem do rio ( The Third Bank of the River ) (+ sc)
Cinema de lágrimas (+ co-sc)
Guerra e liberdade Castro alves em São Paulo
O scai (Nanni) (asst d)
Agulha no palheiro (Viany) (asst d)
Balança mas nao caid (Vanderlei) (asst d)
O grande momento (Santos) (pr)
Barravento (Rocha) (ed); Pedreira de São Diogo (Hirszman) (ed)
For all o trampolim da Vitória (ro as Almirante Johnes)
Interview with Leo Murray, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), March 1966.
Interview with Fedéric de Cárdenas and Max Tessier, in Etudes Cinématographiques (Paris), no. 93–96, 1972.
Interview with J. Frenais, in Cinéma (Paris), October 1976.
Interview with A. Lima, in Filme Cultura (Rio de Janeiro), February 1979.
Interview with Agustin Mahieu, in Cine Libre (Madrid), no. 6, 1983.
Interview with Richard Peña, in Framework (Norwich), no. 29, 1985.
Interview with Robert Stam, and others, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 14, no. 2, 1985.
"Manifesto por un cinema popular," in Hojas de cine , by Marcelo Beraba, Mexico City, 1986.
"La comète Grierson en Amérique latine," in Positif (Paris), June 1994.
"Cinéma de larmes," an interview with Sylvie Pierre, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), June 1995.
Rocha, Glauber, Revisao critica do cinema brasiliero , Rio de Janeiro, 1963.
Frías, Isaac Léon, Los años de la conmoción , Mexico City, 1979.
Johnson, Randal, and Robert Stam, editors, Brazilian Cinema , Rutherford, New Jersey, 1982.
Johnson, Randal, Cinema Novo x 5 , Austin, Texas, 1984.
Burton, Julianne, editor, Cinema and Social Change in Latin America , Austin, Texas, 1986.
Lefèvre, Raymond, " Vidas secas ," in Cinéma (Paris), November 1965.
Monteiro, José, "Nelson Pereira dos Santos," in Filme Cultura (Rio de Janeiro), September/October 1970.
Kinder, Marsha, " Tent of Miracles ," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1978.
"Dossier criticos: Barre Pesada ," in Filme Cultura (Rio de Janeiro), February 1979.
Xavier, I., and others, "Cerimonia da purificaçao," in Filme Cultura (Rio de Janeiro), April/August 1984.
Paranagua, P. A., "Nelson Pereira dos Santos: Trajectoire d'un dépouillement," in Positif (Paris), December 1985.
Peña, Richard, "After Barren Lives : The Legacy of Cinema Novo," in Reviewing Histories , edited by Coco Fusco, Buffalo, New York, 1987.
Mraz, John, "What's Popular in the New Latin American Cinema?," in Studies in Latin American Popular Culture , no. 7, 1988.
Stam, Robert, "São Nelson," in Film Comment (New York), January-February 1995.
Maier-Schoen, Petra, "Das filmische Gewissen," in Film-Dienst (Cologne), 12 March 1996.
* * *
Considered to be the "mentor" and "conscience" of Cinema Novo (New Cinema)—the movement that fundamentally transformed the theory and practice of film in Brazil and Latin America—Nelson Pereira dos Santos encapsulates many of its ideals in his works.
The most important of these is the reaction against the domination of Brazilian screens by foreign films and imported cinematic models, for Cinema Novo is the result of efforts by directors such as Pereira, Glauber Rocha, and Carlos Diegues to make a genuinely "popular cinema." This concept has been used in a variety of ways, but to Pereira it represents a combination of commercial success and a concern with national identity. Thus, though he criticized early Cinema Novo works because they were inaccessible to the general public, he also feels that marketability is not the only criteria by which to judge what is "popular." For Pereira, films must also affirm the principles of Brazilian popular culture, which he sees as dramatically different from "superficial, elitist cultural forms that follow antiquated, colonized models."
The first film to embody the principles of Cinema Novo was Rio, 40 Degrees , which Pereira dos Santos made in 1955. Greatly influenced by Italian neo-realism, Rio was made in the streets of that city and outside studios, and was immersed in Brazil's reality. The storyline presents the poles of Brazilian society, contrasting the lives of the upper and the lower classes through the device of following the activities of five peanut vendors who leave their slum houses to sell their wares in different parts of Rio.
Aside from the thematic focus on everyday life, Pereira believes the structure of the production also reflected the film's innovative approach to storytelling. The work was made with an absolute minimum of technical resources (a camera and some lights); the crew was composed of friends who did whatever was required of them, rather than technicians who worked only in their specialty; and the film was shot on location, in the places where the stories take place. However, in spite of such low-budget strategies, production of Rio was still expensive enough to sink Pereira deeply in debt. As a consequence, he was unable to make another feature for four years.
When Pereira did return to feature production, it was to make another "classic" of Cinema Novo, Barren Lives. During 1957 and 1958, the filmmaker had directed documentaries in the Brazilian northeast, where he was greatly struck by the extreme drought conditions typical of that region. At the time, there was much debate about Brazil's agrarian problems, and Pereira participated in that discussion by adapting Graciliano Ramos' book Vidas secas to the screen.
Pereira's experience in making documentaries there served him well, for he was aware that the usual camera filters transformed the arid countryside into an exotic garden. He worked closely with Luiz Carlos Barreto, one of the finest Brazilian cameramen of the time, to produce an austere kind of photography, achieved through high-contrast film shot without filters, which reflected the reality of the area. Pereira further struggled against the sentimentalized and picturesque vision so often rendered of such regions by creating a soundtrack in which harsh noises punctuate the narrative.
History is an important source of national identity, and Pereira has directed two historical films of uncommon power and beauty: How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman and Prison Memories. My Little Frenchman was made at a time when government censorship made it difficult to produce films on contemporary problems; as Pereira noted: "The government financed historical films, but it wanted the history to be within official parameters—the hero, the father of the country, all those things we have been told since elementary school." This was a seemingly impossible task, but one that Pereira turned to his own uses by making a work that subverted "official history" by focusing on the Indian perspective of the "discovery" of America and through incorporating contradictions between the images shown and the discourses of government officials in the film.
With Prison Memories , Pereira returned to Graciliano Ramos for inspiration. Freely adapting the book, in which Ramos described his experiences as a political prisoner during the 1930s, Pereira turned the jail into a metaphor for "the prison of social and political relations which oppress the Brazilian people." In his contemporary and historical cinema, Nelson Pereira dos Santos has explored the depths of Brazilian reality as well as the heights to which that nation's culture is capable of rising.