Brazilian Embassy cultural attache Raphael Tosti de Almeida Vieira has an ace up his sleeve. No, it’s not the shorter version of his name — Raphael Tosti — that he uses in Washington business contexts because his full name is so long. His ace is Brazilian music.
“It’s the Brazilian soft power,” Tosti says of his country’s rich musical heritage that includes internationally beloved genres such as samba and bossa nova.
Given that Brazil’s sounds have such drawing power, Tosti says, it made sense to include several music-themed movies in the eighth Brazilian Film Week, running Friday–Nov. 6 at the E Street Cinema. “It’s a way of luring more audiences to the festival,” Tosti says.
Organized by the Brazilian Embassy’s cultural division, the festival will include documentaries about the Brazilian singer Maria Bethania; bossa nova; and the Brazilian composer, accordion player and singer Dominguinhos. Continuing the tunes-and-rhythms theme, one of the feature films, the 2013 crime drama and love story “Faroeste Caboclo (Brazilian Western),” riffs on a story told in a Brazilian popular song.
Not that the festival is entirely music-focused. The schedule includes, among other films, a documentary about residents of the Amazon rain forest and “O Menino e o Mundo (The Boy and the World),” an animated movie that is kid-friendly. (The films are mostly in Portuguese with English subtitles. Admission is free.)
The film “Dominguinhos” chronicles the life of the musician, who worked in the Brazilian style of baiao as well as jazz, bossa nova and other genres. Directed by Joaquim Castro, Eduardo Nazarian and Mariana Aydar, the documentary was released earlier this year.
The film “depicts the rough realities of the northeast of Brazil, then goes on to show the long journey taken by Dominguinhos when he headed to the southeast of the country, where he would gain recognition and fame, overcoming the dire difficulties of his poor childhood,” the film’s São Paulo-based producer, Deborah Osborn, said in an e-mail. She theorized that the very “roughness” of the musician’s early life bred “the astounding quality and depth of his music.”
Osborn is scheduled to participate in a talkback after the festival screening of “Dominguinhos” on Friday.
“Faroeste Caboclo” director René Sampaio will be another participant in a Brazilian Film Week talkback Saturday. Speaking by Skype from a Rio de Janeiro editing room, where he was immersed in work on a television series, Sampaio recalled the genesis of the movie “Faroeste Caboclo.” The song “Faroeste Caboclo” is “like a Bob Dylan song — like ‘Hurricane’ — that tells a story,” explains Sampaio. He remembers hearing the hit (written by Renato Russo and recorded by the band Legiao Urbana) on the radio as a teenager.
Decades later, he set about turning the ballad into a movie. “We tried to be faithful to the feelings of the music,” he says, but since “the lyrics weren’t exactly a script,” he and his screenwriters — including Marcos Bernstein of the acclaimed movie “Central Station”— took some liberties.
The movie follows the career of a black Brazilian who leaves his home in the country’s northeast seeking a better life. In the capital city of Brasilia, the hero tries to pursue an honest career but is caught up in the criminal world — a development that complicates his romance with a girl from the upper classes.
The movie “talks about contrasts — poverty, riches, white people and black people living together, trying to figure out how to solve their problems,” Sampaio says. However, he adds, “mostly it’s about a guy who’s looking for the right to his own destiny and personhood.” The setting may be Brazilian, Sampaio says, but “more than anything, it’s a universal story.”
When it comes to universal story lines, the seed-to-harvest cycle is high on the list. Agrarian rhythms get choreographic expression in “The Mist,” a dance piece created and performed by Arabesque, which is said to be the only contemporary dance troupe in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Slated for performance at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage on Wednesday as part of Arabesque’s U.S. debut tour, “The Mist” pays homage to the chores and rituals of Vietnamese rice farming. Dancers whose costumes include traditional Vietnamese work clothes, and who sometimes appear with realistic props such as bamboo carrying-poles, execute steps that adhere to a modern-dance aesthetic. Traces of ballet are perceptible, too (Nguyen Tan Loc, Arabesque’s artistic director, studied at the Fujisato Ballet Studio in Tokyo).
“The Mist” is wafting around the United States courtesy of Center Stage, a cultural exchange program created by the State Department in partnership with the New England Foundation for the Arts. Adrienne Petrillo, a program manager at the foundation, says the Arabesque tour represents the largest group of artists Center Stage has brought to the United States this year. In addition to the seven dancers and the artistic director, a technical director has made the trip. Who could wonder at the inclusion of this last professional? “The Mist” was written to conclude with a climactic rainstorm of rice.
Brazilian Film Week. Friday-Nov. 6 at E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW. Visit https://www.eventbrite.com/directory?q=brazilian+festival&loc=Washington%2C+DC .
“The Mist.” At the Kennedy Center’s Millenium Stage Wednesday. Visit www.kennedy-center.org.
Wren is a freelance writer.