28th Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival
The Wonders of the Amazon
director: Silvino Santos
original title: Amazonas, maior rio do mundo
running time: 50 min.
synopsisThe travelogue The Wonders of the Amazon (1918) is a key film for the history of South American documentary film, but also a colonial testimony that indirectly speaks about what it conceals. At the same time, it is a film that was considered lost until only recently. Curator Jay Weissberg identified it during his research visit to the National Film Archive, and Cinemateca Brasileira, among others, was instrumental in confirming the extraordinary finding. This world-renowned institution is currently emerging from the near-perfect liquidation sought by the previous Bolsonaro administration. This is why it is necessary for this film to be symbolically returned to its country of origin and for Cinemateca Brasileira to undertake its further screening, which will certainly be accompanied by the necessary contextualisation and critical reading. Ji.hlava and the National Film Archive are presenting the film as part of UNESCO's World Audiovisual Heritage Day.
“Writing his memoir from Manaus in 1969, Silvino expressed his sadness that the film had vanished: “It is still in the orbit of the planets.” In February 2023, the National Film Archive sent a link of the film to Jay Weissberg, who then contacted me to confirm his suspicion that the documentary was indeed Santos’ lost work. The print housed at the archive comes from a B&W duplicate negative made in the 1980s from a now lost nitrate print.”
Source: Catalogue Note, Sávio Luis Stoco
biographySilvino Santos (full name Silvino Simões Santos Silva, 1886–1970) was born in Portugal and moved to the north of Brazil at the age of thirteen. There he worked in a bookshop and tried to establish himself as a painter and photographer. In South America, he met the powerful “rubber barons” of the time, including Julio César Arana, a Peruvian politician and rubber entrepreneur. In 1910, Arana contacted Silvino Santos in Manaus and sent him to the Pathé Frères film studios in Paris to learn filmmaking and obtain film material. Santos married Arana's stepdaughter, Ana Maria, and in 1913 he shot his first film for Arana around the Putumayo River with a clear task: to send a positive message to the company's shareholders about the functioning of the rubber industry around the Putumayo River. The photographs of the indigenous Amazonian inhabitants that Santos took for Arana also served a similar purpose. Nevertheless, the British public gradually became aware of the slave-like working conditions in the extraction of natural rubber and the crimes against humanity committed by the workers of the Peruvian Amazon Rubber Co. against the indigenous population (in 1912, W. E. Hardenburg's The Putumayo: The Devil's Paradise was published in London). The company was eventually forced by the courts to cease operations in the area, and the entire period of inhuman extractivism was later referred to as the “Putumayo Genocide”. Arana, however, continued to maintain his social prestige and was not prosecuted. Santos's first film, Rio Putumayo (1913), probably no longer exists, but fragments of it may have appeared in the director's subsequent films Amazonas, o maior rio do mundo (1918–1920, The Wonders of the Amazon), and the feature-length documentary No Paiz das Amazonas (1921/1922). Silvino Santos went on to make commissioned films in Brazil for private companies and for the Brazilian government, and in the 1920s and 1930s, he made films in Portugal (Miss Portugal, 1927, Terra portuguesa, 1934). In total, he made 83 short films, 8 features and 5 medium-length films.
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