Rosa Maria Antuña. Retrospective of a non-film-maker

What is cinema? What is considered a film? What makes someone a film-maker? These are complex questions, with no definitive answers. For Chantal Akerman “cinema is cinema is cinema, a rose is a rose is a rose” echoing Gertrude Stein’s poem Sacred Emily. However, in 1968, a Brazilian lady who declared herself a “non-film-maker” used her poetic language to demonstrate that a rose is cinema and cinema is a rose, becoming one of the first women to direct a film in her country.

At the age of 26, Rosa Maria Antuña enrolled in Brazil’s first film school, which opened in 1962 in Belo Horizonte, a city cut off by mountains, far from the great cinematographic centres of Río de Janeiro and São Paulo. Brazilian cinema began to gain prestige at European festivals through Cinema Novo, bringing with it the hope that making cinema in Brazil would become a realistic dream. Meanwhile, from 1964 onwards, the military dictatorship brought an upturn in fear and repression.

Having decided to escape the stereotypes of a traditional family, and without knowing what it really meant to be a film-maker, Rosa fell in love with the cinema and made two short feminist films, and also worked with her classmates on other projects.

Her first film, Rosae Rosa (1968), portrays class conflict through the meeting between a beggar and a rich young woman. The girl offers the beggar a rose that has no symbolic value for him. When he receives the flower, the man eats it and thereby gives the audience a message: hunger before poetry. The film might be seen as auto-criticism, as the author’s actual name is in the Latin title of the film, which means “a rose for Rose”. An indication that the poetry (the rose) of her own film is for herself. The original copy of the film, lost for decades, was located although it was damaged, and it has not been possible to digitalise it from the original photochemical materials until now. Nevertheless, a low-quality digital copy will be shown during the session, obtained from an older telecine.

Rosa’s second film, Solo (1969), was hidden in her kitchen for over fifty years until it was digitally restored for my project Yo no soy cineasta, a documentary film which attempts to weave the history of this forgotten pioneer of Brazilian cinema. Lasting barely ninety seconds, the images from Solo show a lone woman who is masturbating with a statue of St Anthony in a domestic and religious setting. It was shown just once at the 5th Jornal do Brasil Mesbla Amateur Film Festival, in 1969. The masculine gaze of the time merely declared these images “iconoclastic”, “erotic” and “comical”. Ashamed by the negative response to her work, the director decided to self-censor, hiding her artistic past and her films from the world.

The dictatorship closed the school in 1970 and with it, any dreams of making films in Belo Horizonte. Over fifty films were made during the eight years that the institution was open. These were 16 mm productions, in black and white, infused in a poetic tone and made by self-proclaimed “non-film-makers” and “amateurs”. These creators set up their own film festivals, sharing their works with secondary and university students. However, amid these creative efforts, difficult times prevailed; the dictatorship was more repressive and censoring than ever, and it became palpably dangerous to be an artist.

Despite her talent for cinema, Rosa gave up her dream of being a film-maker and took the safe option of becoming a modest librarian, mother and wife, roles which she had rejected in her youth.

Fifty years later, I formed part of the first generation taking the reopened film courses at the same institution and had to address the same concerns as Rosa Maria. Intrigued by the school’s past and seeking female references from the history of Brazilian cinema, I set out in search of clues and small fragments of memory that would restore the life and times of this self-declared “non-film-maker” and the history of the film school that we had in common. A friendship emerged between us which shows how, despite the passing of time, the anguish and the fears of female film-makers remain remarkably similar. Along the way, I have come across more former students, found several films that were lost or in danger of being lost forever and experienced an unfavourable political context for preserving Brazilian cinema.

In this session, I will talk about the creative process of my project, the documentary feature length film, Yo no soy cineasta, and my research into the cinema of Belo Horizonte in the 1960s, particularly the films of Rosa Maria Antuña, relating the historical context to small fragments of surviving memory. I will also mention the work by a group of people to locate and digitalise Rosa Maria’s two films, and the alternatives that I found to overcome the lack of public policies to preserve the country’s cinema and culture.

Izabela Silva


Rosa Maria Antuña, Brazil, 1969, 1 min 30 s, DCP.

Rosae Rosa
Rosa Maria Antuña, Brazil, 1968, 6 min, 16mm to digital archive.

Rosa Maria Antuña. Retrospective of a non-film-maker
Promoted by
Gobierno de Navarra
Organized by
With the aid of
Con la financiación del Gobierno de España. Instituto de la Cinematografía y las Artes Audiovisuales Acción Cultural Española Plan de Recuperación, Transformación y Resiliencia Financiado por la Unión Europea. NexGenerationEU

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