Kenyans learning about Brazil's history and culture through films

A reveler of Mocidade Alegre samba school performs during the second night of carnival parades at the Sambadrome in Sao Paulo,Brazil, on February 10, 2013. [AFP, Yasuyoshi Chiba]

With several films nominated for international prizes every year, the diversity of Brazilian cinema remains somewhat unexplored by the common audiences around the world.

Brazil’s “strange vocation” (an expression used by director Carlos Diégues) for cinema is due to the fact that its production is made of cycles in which periods of great enthusiasm alternate periods of crisis.

Since the beginning of this century, masterpieces such as City of God, Central Station, Motorcycle Diaries (a Brazilian co-production), and Aquarius received excellent reviews and became famous worldwide.

These examples, however, are but a grain of sand in a full beach of short and feature films, as well as documentaries and animations Brazil has produced in the last decades.

The Embassy of Brazil in Nairobi has long identified the interest of Kenyan citizens in Brazilian films.

A select and well-informed audience, Kenyans always have at the tip of their tongue their favourite Brazilian title and crave for more.

They want Brazil, raw and honest. They want Brazilian history and stories. They want what is similar and what is diverse.

Brazil and Kenya have so much in common that my team and I are proud to say we feel at home in this beautiful country. That is not to say, however, that our cultures are similar—each culture is unique, a special blend of its society and its historical roots.

Brazil is a confluence of diverse racial matrices and distinct cultural traditions that gave way to a new people. We are not a transplanted people, who intended to rebuild Europe in new lands.

We are a new people, tied to the Portuguese tradition, due to the unity of language in a gigantic territory, but also essentially African, indigenous and, with the migratory waves of the late nineteenth century until the mid-twentieth century, Italian, German, Spanish, Syrian, Lebanese, Japanese.

As a Brazilian historian recently wrote, the soul of Brazil is riddled with colours. We are a society defined by rhythms, arts, sports, aromas, culinary, and literature.

In the pluralism of its continental scale and its multiethnic, linguistically harmonious composition, open to syncretism and diversity, Brazil remains faced with a continuous dilemma: How to combine such wealth in its identity with unacceptable patterns of inequality and social and racial exclusion. That is something to be found in our history. And in our films.

The pandemic has stalled film production all around the globe. Movie theatres closed their doors. If access to foreign productions was difficult before, it became even more of a challenge for those who yearn for culturally diverse titles.

In this context, and willing to adapt our traditional film festival to the new reality, this year we have decided to host a virtual event.

From December 1 to 15, Kenyan audiences will be able to watch a programme specially curated for them from the comfort and safety of their own homes.

The festival includes films portraying Afro-Brazilian religions, football, childhood, elderhood, mental illnesses, pandemic-related femicide, the harsh reality faced in countryside Brazil painted with beautiful colours and a very special title released this year, which tells the story of a friendship between a Brazilian and a Ugandan.

With so much in common between us, we hope Kenyans find something to identify with in at least one of our films, and, if not, that they discover a bit more about our country—as I have the pleasure to discover about yours daily.