Chico Carneiro, Between Amazon and Mozambique, everything becomes a movie

Brazilian filmmaker Chico Carneiro left Brazil, more precisely from the Amazon region, crossed the ocean and ended up in Mozambique, not only making films, but living cinema.

His father, Duca Carneiro, was a film exhibitor. Self-taught, Chico acquired his first camera as a child – an 8mm Bolex – that he used to make small black and white home movies. In 1971, he entered a film course in Belém. If at first his fascination with filmmaking began and ended with the realization in and of itself, he gradually saw in art a way to promote social change.

In the 1970s Chico participated in important works of Brazilian cinema, starting with Jorge Bodanzky Orlando Senna’s “Iracema”, filmed in Pará in 1974. He also participated in the feature films “Gitrana” (Bodansky-Senna, 1975”); “Os Muckers” (Bodanzky-Gauer, 1977); “Pixote” (Hector Babenco, 1979); “Música para Siempre” (Nevile D’Almeida, 1979), and “ABC da Greve” (Leon Hirzsman, 1979).

In 1993, one decade after arriving on the Mozambican land, he became a founding partner of Promarte – a film production company. There, he worked as a photographer, camera operator and director. In 2012, he created the production company Argus, where he currently works. Today, he is torn between making films about the Amazon and the Mozambican reality.

In an interview with ATLANTICO, he talks about the passion for the seventh art, which stems from childhood. From being encouraged by his father, going through his participation in important Brazilian cinematographic works of the 70s, until his arrival in Mozambique, which should have lasted a year but has already reached more than three decades.

Photo: Paulo Alexandre/Argus Filmes

In this interview, Chico Carneiro also recalls great moments of his love with the seventh art; as well as the path that led him to adopt Mozambique as his home.

ATLANTICO – How did your passion for cinema begin?

CHICO CARNEIRO –I was born and raised in a cinematic environment. My father was a movie screener in Castanhal, a small inland city (70 km from the capital of Pará, Belém), and in other cities in the interior of Pará. In his golden age, he even had an exhibition network of 25 screens, extending to the Imperatriz, in Maranhão. I experienced cinema. Much of my cultural background is due to cinema. As a teenager my fascination with cinema made me know already what I wanted to be (and do) professionally in life: movies! We were 10 brothers connected to cinema, and soon we had access to the camera by our father, who although a film exhibitionist, was a movie enthusiast in general. He also had photography skills. It was on an 8mm Bolex camera that I began to brave the then complex art of filming. 1960s decade. If initially, it was the fascination of “making cinema” that pushed me into this area of audiovisual work, later my cinematographic journey took the path of wanting to make films more social and political. This was due not only to the kind of cinema in which I was later professionally involved and, above all, to my social view of the world.

Photo: Argus Filmes

ATLANTICO – And how was your professional process?

CHICO CARNEIRO – I started filming, still at the 8mm gauge, small black & white movies about homelike themes like birthdays and the September 7th school parade in my hometown. But to establish an initial milestone in my career, one can use the year 1971 when I took a film course in Belém. This culminated in the production of a small 16mm film (unfinished due to lack of resources).

My first professional job was as an assistant cameraman in the feature film “Iracema” – by Jorge Bodanzky and Orlando Senna, filmed in Pará in October 1974. Working on this film was a true cinema university. Among other things, the modus operandi of how the film was made was precisely the kind of cinema I was interested in making: with a strong social and documentary nature, requiring low cost, small staff, agile, committed to its contemporaneity and to denunciation of the ills that dictatorships impose on the social fabric of a society, in this case, the Brazilian and Amazonian ones.

Starting from this, in June 1975 I migrated to São Paulo, where for about 8 years I worked in the film industry as a camera and sound assistant, learning by doing. Between advertising films, documentaries and feature films, I was exercising my practical learning of how to make cinema. Between 1981 and 1982 I co-produced and co-directed what I consider to be my first Paránese documentary – “Tó Teixeira”. Shot in color and at 16mm, I did the photography and the camera. In early 1983, I received an invitation to work at a film production company in Mozambique.

Photo: Chico Carneiro’s Archive

ATLANTICO – How did you arrive in Mozambique?

CHICO CARNEIRO – Until then, my knowledge of this country was virtually null: I knew about the process of independence via armed struggle, I knew about Zé Celso and Celso Lucas’s film about Mozambique (“25”), as well as Ruy Guerra’s film “Mueda – Memória e Massacre”. I also knew of a book titled “Mozambique – Primeiras Machambas”; but my knowledge of this Indian country stopped there.

This invitation opened a range of opportunities for the development of my professional career. I stopped being an assistant and became the camera operator and director of photography for the company. The Mozambican company was very well assembled and had enviable equipment and infrastructure, even for countries like Brazil that already had a considerable film industry. At that time, Mozambique had its own laboratory for developing black and white films, making the production of the moving images in the country all black and white. They were shot at 16mm and enlarged to 35mm for movie theaters. To experience an African country. To participate in a revolutionary process in a newly liberated country and contribute to the solidification of that process. To leave the dictatorship that was still being lived in Brazil. To have financial stability, however small, since I was married with 2 small children. The initial contract was of one year, renewable. I had no idea that this one year would become over time the 36 years that in 2019 I completed living in Mozambique.

ATLANTICO – What are the similarities and differences between Mozambique and Brazil?

CHICO CARNEIRO – This question sounds simple, but it is not. How can you compare countries, cultures? You cannot. Or rather, one should not. My long experience and immersion in the culture of this country have taught me not to make this kind of comparison. But in these times of neoliberalism, many countries equalize in terms of the worst the human species has to offer. Using the mineral resources of the country that belong to all its inhabitants, for example, to enrich a tiny portion of the population, to the detriment of the vast majority of the rest of that population; was not exactly what rocked the dreams of the youth that fought the armed liberation struggle of Mozambique.

“How can you compare countries, culture? You can’t. Or rather, you shouldn’t”

ATLANTICO – You did a lot of work in Brazil, especially in the Amazon. What is your current connection with the country? Do you want to keep making movies around here?

CHICO CARNEIRO – My connection with Brazil never ceased to exist. I practically go to Pará every year and, as much as possible, turn my time there into a documentary film. In 2018, for example, I spent three months in Brazil and during that time I filmed material for five documentaries, 2 of them are ready and have aired in Maputo [“Quem é Vanda?” and “Jaburu”], another three are in the process of being edited. At this moment, counting with the unfinished 1982 film and the two recent ones being edited, there are 14 films made in the “Amazonia Paraense”.

The documentary film “8 Dias em Massingir (animais não votam)”, produced by ARGUS, for CTV – Centro Terra Viva, directed by Chico Carneiro Photo: Argus Filmes

ATLANTICO – What attracts you to film in Mozambique?

CHICO CARNEIRO – The wealth of stories, like in the Amazon. Everything becomes a movie.

ATLANTICO – How is the exchange with directors from other countries? Do you usually work with African filmmakers as well?

Filming of the documentary “Djambo” Photo: Argus Filmes

CHICO CARNEIRO – Mozambique has a strong history of film productions, based on the establishment of the National Film Institute – which occurred soon after the country’s independence – and which also aimed at training local filmmakers. Big names in the world of cinematography have been here making their contribution to the construction of a Mozambican cinema. I mention the 3 best known: Ruy Guerra, Jean Rouch, and Jean Luc Godard. But filmmakers from other countries have also passed through here: Soviets, Cubans, English, Zimbabweans, Portuguese, Brazilians… This exchange was once more intense and lasting. Today, each case is a case. I have co-directed films with Portuguese and Mozambicans. I photographed a documentary for a Portuguese woman living in Mozambique and recently filmed interviews for a documentary by a Cape Verdean filmmaker here in Maputo about the Cape Verdean diaspora in Mozambique. I made the cinematography of 2 documentaries for 2 European directors, one French and one Danish. Apart from this collaboration with the Cape Verdean filmmaker, I have not had the opportunity to work with or for other African filmmakers.

ATLANTICO –  You have done several works with great political focus by showing the Mozambican reality. You also worked with NGOs. That and, not to mention your focus on the Amazon. How do you see the role of cinema in transforming the social reality of a country?

CHICO CARNEIRO – Bernard Shaw defined cinema as a rare and valuable art to be splendidly natural in the interpretation of human life. I would add rare, valuable, powerful, and transformative. So powerful that movies are feared and censored and curtailed from free production and propaganda by all dictatorial systems. Dominators do not care that populations have access to information, education. Cinema informs, educates and liberates. I also think that cinema should be a subject in curricular teaching in schools.

“Dominators do not care that populations have access to information, education. Cinema informs, educates and liberates.”

ATLANTICO – What are your plans for the future? And what are the next steps for Argus?

The documentary film “Pescadores de Água Doce” Photo: Chico Carneiro

CHICO CARNEIRO –  In 2019, I competed for three documentary projects in Mozambique and won one of them, which became the movie “Minha Casa Era Aqui”, with the theme of urban resettlement. It was the most recent production from Argus, other than the local production of the two documentaries for Mira Filmes. My plan is to continue making socially-themed movies in Mozambique and Brazil, more precisely in the “Amazonia Paraense”. I also want to finalize the documentary about the musician “Tó Teixeira”. In February 2020 I will go to Brazil to release two documentaries made in 2018 (“Quem é Vanda?” and “Jaburu”) and complement the filming for another two. I also want to make my Amazon movies available on the Internet.