Zózimo Bulbul

© Chuck Martin

Zózimo Bulbul (Rio de Janeiro, 1937-2013) is a fundamental figure in Brazilian cinema history. From the early 1960s, he experienced a process of politicization that brought him into contact with the initiatives of the Centro Popular de Cultura (CPC) [Popular Center of Culture] of the União Nacional dos Estudantes [National Students Union].

This led him to be cast as one of the protagonists in Cinco vezes favela [Five Times Favela] (1965), a film produced by the CPC, a milestone in Cinema Novo and in the debate on the social and cultural conditions of working and black populations in Brazilian audiovisual media. Bulbul was thus consolidated as one of the most important actors of his generation, working with directors such as Leon Hirszman, Nelson Pereira dos Santos and Glauber Rocha. While spending time amid the intellectual and politicized environment of this group of filmmakers, Bulbul participated in debates with the nascent black movements emerging in the country, which led him to rethink his artistic production.

In 1971, Bulbul starred in the feature film Compasso de espera, directed by Antunes Filho. He played a black poet who has achieved a certain prominence in a predominantly white bourgeois and intellectual environment, thus confronting the atavistic racism in Brazilian society, still disguised by the myth of racial democracy. Bulbul then obtained the short ends leftover from Antunes Filho’s feature and used them to direct his first short film, Alma no olho [Spirit in the Eye]. Given the precariousness of the material, which limited the control of photographic contrast and restricted shooting to short takes, Bulbul put himself in the film, in a sequence of iconic shots that experimentally and provocatively condensed stereotypes of the image of the black man in Brazilian history. Apart from being a creation without precedent in Brazilian cinema, this short film was the start of Bulbul’s commitment to forming a cinema directed and produced by black people. His legacy to future generations includes the feature film Abolição [Abolition] (1988), a synthesis of debates on the farcical process of abolition of Afro-Brazilian slaves that supposedly took place in 1988, and the founding of both the Centro AfroCarioca de Cinema [AfroCarioca Cinema Center] (since 2007) and Encontros de Cinema Negro – Brasil, África e Caribe [Meetings of Black Cinema – Brazil, Africa, and the Carribean], an event, now in its 14th year, dedicated to building the protagonism of the black Brazilian filmmaker, in connection with the African continent and its diasporas.


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