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Brazilian filmmaker Nelson Pereira dos Santos visits Wexner Center as part of Via Brasil series

Courtesy of Jay LaPrete

Nelson Pereira dos Santos doesn’t like talking heads.

“Talking heads are an imposition from another area which is television,” dos Santos said.

The Brazilian filmmaker with a career spanning six decades dropped by the Wexner Center for the Arts Wednesday to show his most recent film and documentary “The Music According to Antonio Carlos Jobim.”

Antonio Carlos Jobim, also known as Tom, was a Brazilian songwriter often credited with helping create the bossa nova style of music, a style of popular Brazilian music similar to samba. His song “The Girl from Ipanema,” a well-known bossa nova song, is one of the most recorded pop songs of all time.

Jobim and dos Santos were friends and both were on the forefront of their respective movements: Jobim with bossa nova and dos Santos with cinema novo, which is known for its focus on social issues.

Dos Santos called the film a homage to his friend.

He said he had to fight with his colleagues and producers to keep talking heads, a documentary convention where scholars or experts talk in front of the camera, out of his film. Dos Santos ultimately won the argument and the film was left as he intended it.

The film sways back and forth through concert footage of different artists performing Jobim’s music over 84 minutes. 

Dos Santos’ insistence on keeping the film music-centric allowed him to present Jobim unfiltered. The movie is not about others’ memories of the musician, but allowing audiences who either missed out or want to relive the heyday of Jobim’s influence. 

The film skips from clip to clip spanning his entire catalog. American musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra are sprinkled in next to Latin stars like Elis Regina. 

The video quality covers a full spectrum from grainy 16mm, to weathered VHS, to modern high-definition.

Portuguese is the film’s dominant language and there are no subtitles, but English-speakers can follow along because the film is comprised entirely of music.  

Chris Stults, associate curator of Film/Video of the Wexner Center, said the film was a celebration of Jobim and bossa nova music.

“It’s a really emotional film for Brazilians. They’ve been breathing this music for their whole life. It’s part of their backdrop in a way that Americans can’t understand,” Stults said. 

He added that the showing was part of a program at the Wexner Center called Via Brasil, a series of events meant to inform visitors about Brazilian culture. 

The program is funded by a $782,300 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“We showed five films of his over the course of the month. I could have easily shown three times as many films and not had a dud in the group. It was tough to be so selective,” Stults said. 

The Wexner Center is one of four U.S. locations dos Santos selected to visit and present his documentary.

Dos Santos showed his film to an audience of about 100 at the Wexner Center, and the audience included many Portuguese speakers.

Shelby Stults, a fourth-year in international studies and a Portuguese minor, said she was already a fan of bossa nova music and was curious to learn more through the event.

“It was really kind of cool to see the progression from the early 60s, the very development of it, and then the collaboration and the different spinoffs and adaptations to the genre over time,” Shelby Stults said.

Pedro Pereira, an assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese, called dos Santos “the most well-known Brazilian director alive right now.”

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