Fire destroys Brazil film archive

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Sao Paulo (AFP)

A film warehouse in Sao Paulo was partially destroyed by a fire Thursday just months after employees of the Cinemateca Brasileira had warned of such a disaster, accusing the government of deliberately neglecting the cultural institution.

Fifteen fire trucks and more than 50 firefighters battled the flames for over two hours, but were unable to save all of the cinematheque's warehouse, according to local television footage.

The fire started around 6 pm during maintenance work on the air conditioning system, the fire department said, adding that at least two rooms containing films and other files had been destroyed.

Fueled by the highly flammable acetate film material, the fire spread rapidly through the building housing over 2,000 film copies, according to local reports.

The warehouse that went up in flames was a secondary site and not the headquarters of the Cinemateca Brasileira, which boasts South America's largest film archive but has -- like many of Brazil's prized cultural collections -- been mired in allegations of poor government oversight.

Filmmakers, artists and employees have accused far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's government of "dismantling" the cinematheque.

In July 2020, the Sao Paulo public prosecutor's office filed a lawsuit alleging the federal government had "abandoned" the institution and withheld resources, while questioning the absence of a manager to administer it. The following month, the cinematheque effectively ceased to function after 41 officials resigned.

Thursday's fire was "a foretold tragedy," film critic Lauro Escorel told GloboNews television.

In April, a "Manifesto of the Workers of the Cinemateca Brasileira" warned of the risk of a fire, due to the lack of care "with the material, the equipment, the databases and the buildings."

The film warehouse is the latest repository of Brazil's rich cultural history to go up in smoke after the 200-year-old National Museum in Rio de Janeiro was gutted by a 2018 inferno, and a fire damaged the Portuguese Language Museum in 2015.

Conservationists have called for better protection of and funding for the country's cultural and scientific heritage.