Research Post: Fire at the Cinemateca Brasileira

I&A Research Teams are groups of dedicated volunteers who monitor breaking news and delve into ongoing topics affecting archives and the archival profession. Under the leadership of the I&A Steering Committee, the Research Teams compile their findings into Research Posts for the I&A blog. Each Research Post offers a summary and coverage of an issue. This Research Post comes from On-Call Research Team #2, which is mobilized to investigate issues as they arise.

Please be aware that the sources cited have not been vetted and do not indicate an official stance of SAA or the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable.

Summary of the Issue

A fire broke out in the film library of the Cinemateca Brasileira in São Paolo on February 3, 2016. The exact cause of the fire was not reported, but the area involved was where nitrate film was stored. This material is known to be volatile and can spontaneously combust due to environmental factors. Sources reported that approximately 1,000 rolls of film burned in the fire. All is not lost, however, as the institution states that all films lost in the fire had been preserved in other media formats (though some of the reports located state that number at 80%). Reports of the fire came out soon after the event occurred, but updates and further information has not been located. While there are many reports, especially reports in Portuguese, almost all of them date from February 3 or 4. They each appear to leave some questions on the table.

The fire occurred in one of the institution’s nitrate film warehouses, which are specially designed to house such film. There is no electric grid, and interior walls do not reach the ceilings. Most sources report that it took about 30 minutes to contain the fire. Some video footage of the scene can be found here.

The Cinemateca Brasileira holds some 250,000 film rolls, including features, short films, and newsreels, as well as books, papers, movie posters, and other paper records; this loss represents 0.4% of their film holdings. The history of the Cinemateca can be traced back to 1946 as the Second Film Club of São Paolo (after the First had been closed by the Department of Press and Propaganda in 1941). In 1948, the Club became affiliated with the International Federation of Film Clubs and, in 1949, with the film department of São Paolo’s newly created Museum of Modern Art. In 1964, it was incorporated into the Ministry of Culture, becoming a governmental institution. Previous fires have occurred in 1957, 1969, and 1982, all due to nitrate film. The institute moved into its current facilities, built under the technical guidance of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF), in 1998.

The Archivist Rising blog reported that the institution suffered somewhat recent budget cuts due to a large financial crisis. Blogger Aurélio Michiles blames the incident on the previous budget cuts as well, but describes the cuts as more of a punishment towards the administration rather than having to do with an overall financial crisis. Further sources state the number of employees has been reduced from over 100 in 2013 to just over 20 currently, though it remains unclear how many employees are governmental workers and how many are actually employed by the Cinematheque’s Friends Society (Sociedade Amigos da Cinemateca) and whether or not that affects the various numbers reported from different sources. The truth behind this budget controversy is left for further research – and preferably by someone proficient in Portuguese.

bibliography of coverage of the issue:

“Some thousand film rolls burnt in Cinemateca Brasileira fire.” EBC Agencia Brasil. Accessed 2016 March 25. http://agenciabrasil.ebc.com.br/en/cultura/noticia/2016-02/some-thousand-film-rolls-burnt-cinemateca-brasileira-fire (EBC manages TV Brasil, TV Brasil International, Agência Brasil, Radioagência, and the National Public Broadcast System. Besides the commitment to public communication, their values are characterized by editorial independence, transparency, and participatory management.)

“Cinemateca Brasileira.” Wikipedia. Accessed 2016 March 25. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinemateca_Brasileira

“Ministério da Cultura não tem plano para evitar novos incêndios na Cinemateca Brasileira.” Estãdo. Accessed 2016 March 25. http://cultura.estadao.com.br/noticias/cinema,ministerio-da-cultura-nao-tem-plano-para-evitar-novos-incendios-na-cinemateca-brasileira,10000014848

“Ministério da Cultura mudará gestão da Cinemateca.” Folha De S. Paolo. Accessed 2016 March 25. http://www1.folha.uol.com.br/ilustrada/1220662-ministerio-da-cultura-mudara-gestao-da-cinemateca.shtml

The I&A Steering Committee would like to thank Steve Duckworth for writing this post, and Rachel Seale and Alison Stankrauff for doing key research on the issue.

I&A On-Call Research Team #2 is:

Alison Stankrauff, Leader
Katherine Barbera
Anna Chen
Steven Duckworth
David McAllister
Rachel Seale

If you are aware of an issue that might benefit from a Research Post, please get in touch with us: archivesissues@gmail.com.

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