Brazil's Ministry of Culture Dubiously Demands a Return of Funds Granted to NEIGHBORING SOUNDS

By Pilar Garrett

In a questionable move, the Brazilian Ministry of Culture is requesting the return of federal money granted to filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho in 2009 for the production of his acclaimed film Neighboring Sounds O Som ao Redor (2012), winner of the Cinema Tropical Award for best Latin American film. 

As it's been widely reported in the Brazilian press, the Ministry claims that the film irregularly won a federal edict for the sponsorship of low-budget films. The maximum budget of films accepted for consideration was to be R$ 1.3 million ($356,000 approximately), but Brazil’s National Cinema Agency (ANCINE) reports that Mendonça Filho presented an initial budget of R$ 1,494,991 (about $410,000)—already 15% above the stipulated maximum. After winning the competition, the budget ostensibly rose still to R$ 1,949,690. 

In the end, Mendonça Filho received the equivalent of $468,000 from the Brazilian federal government. His lawyer claims, however, that “the project did not exceed R$ 1.3 million of federal resources,” defending that the surplus of R$ 410 thousand came from the filmmaker’s home state of Pernambuco in the Northeast of Brazil. His lawyer, quoted by newspaper Folha de São Paulo, attributes the conflict to a “misunderstanding,” stating that the restitution called for is “disproportionate, unfair, and excessive.” ANCINE claims that it first noticed the apparent incongruence in 2010, although nothing was done at the time. 

The confrontation has prompted others in the Brazilian film industry to speak out against what they consider an unfair affront to the already-underfunded arts in Brazil. Many in the Brazilian public sphere are considering it a retaliation by the State against the director for condemning President Temer on charges of corruption and publicly denouncing Brazil’s political instability on the red carpet of the world premiere of his film Aquarius as part of the official competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016. 

According to the newspaper Folha de Pernambuco, Brazilian Producer João Vieira Jr. of Carnaval Filmes—responsible for the production of such films as Claudio Assis' Bog of Beasts (2007),  Hilton Lacerda's Tatuagem (2013), and Marcelo Gomes' Joaquim (2017)—confirms that “harnessing resources from different outlets is common.” As far as he can discern, the edict for low-budget films that Mendonça Filho won prevented the collection of other federal resources. “In this case,” Vieira states, “the complimentary resources that Kleber secured came from the state [rather than from the federal] level. I do not think that a single inconsistency is present.” 

It is not yet known whether Mendonça Filho and his lawyer will take this case to the courts or not. Their only comment, reported by the Folha de São Paulo, is that they "trust that justice will be done and that this mistake of interpretation will be corrected."