Only a few months after the first Lumière projection, a keen fascination with the practice of cinema developed in the main urban centers of Latin America. In Brazil, the birth of cinema coincided with the newly institutionalized Republic and its thrust in export-led industrialization, urbanization, and mass immigration. From 1900 to 1912, an incipient Brazilian film artisanal industry begun to develop. Although it was concentrated in a vertically integrated system managed by local entrepreneurs, cinema was never perceived as a significant national industry. In this period, known as the Bela Época , Brazilian films dominated the domestic market, and documentaries and newsreels constituted the most important filmic productions. Fiction films were realized according to the established genres of comedy, melodrama, and historical drama, generally adaptations of literary classics, as well as carnival and satirical musicals, which followed the popular traditions of the circus and the vaudeville of the nineteenth century.
Os estranguladores ( The Stranglers , 1908) by Antônio Leal (1876–1947) was the first Brazilian feature film and Júlio Ferrez's Nhô Anastácio chegou de viagem ( Mr. Anastácio Has Arrived from His Travels , 1908) was the first Brazilian comedy. During this period, Brazilian fiction films, such as Leal's adaptation of José de Alencar's literary work O guaraní ( The Guaraní ), O Diabo ( The Devil , Antonio Campos), and O crime da mala ( The Suitcase Crime , Alberto Botelho) and Paz e amor ( Peace and Love ), were unfaithful copies of European and American cinema of the time, mainly because Brazilian cinematographers lacked technical expertise. The lack of infrastructure and up-to-date technology; the limitation of the public to the carioca upper and middle classes; the systematically aristocratic point of view portrayed in the films; and their unfavorable rating in comparison to foreign standards were all deficiencies that made themselves apparent very soon, having in a few years a lethal impact on this sprouting cinema. Moreover, the impossibility of building a steady production consolidated the flaws and limits of the already tiny market.
By 1911, Hollywood studios were international, and their films began to penetrate the Brazilian market. The Bela Época ended as Brazilian films were displaced by US and European films. From 1914 to 1929, US investments in Latin America increased from 17 to 40 percent of all investments, placing Brazil as Hollywood's fourth largest export market. The US industry implemented an aggressive commercial strategy, which enticed the Brazilian audience through its flawless technical superiority and the glamour of the star system. Cinearte , the most influential film journal of the 1920s, celebrated the US model. The technical expertise and slick production values of Hollywood movies were regarded as the standard, and it served to discourage indigenous filmmaking.
Although the Bela Época 's industrial experiment faded, individual filmmakers continued making films in Rio, Sâo Paulo, Recife, or Porto Alegre, such as Luiz de Barros, who adapted José de Alencar's Indianist romantic novels, Iracema (1917) and Ubirajara (1919); Gilberto Rossi and José Medina, who made Exemplo regenerador ( Redeeming Example , 1919), Perversidade ( Perversity , 1921), Carlitinhos (1921), A culpa dos outros ( The Fault of Others , 1922), and Fragmentos da vida ( Fragments of Life , 1929); and Mario Peixoto, director of Limite ( The Boundary , 1930), the first Brazilian experimental film. In 1925 Humberto Mauro (1897–1983), the most recognized auteur of this period, founded his own production company, Phebo Films, and directed Valadião, o Cratera Valadião, or the Crater , 1925), Na primavera da vida ( In the Spring of Life , 1926), and Tesouro perdido ( Lost Treasure , 1927). With the advent of sound, Mauro teamed up with Cinédia to produce Lábios sem beijos ( Lips without Kisses , 1930), Sangue mineiro ( Minas Blood , 1930), and Ganga bruta ( Brutal Gang , 1933), and with Brasil Vita Filmes to direct Favela dos meus amores ( Favela of My Loves , 1934).