Film Screening: The Edge of Democracy


Sunday, March 8, 2020, 5:00pm


Boylston Hall - 110 Fong Auditorium

Poster of Edge of Democracy

Speaker: Petra Costa, Filmmaker and Director of "The Edge of Democracy"

Description: A cautionary tale for these times of democracy in crisis, the personal and political fuse to explore one of the most dramatic periods in Brazilian history. Combining unprecedented access to leaders past and present, including Presidents Dilma Rousseff and Lula da Silva, with accounts of her own family's complex past, filmmaker Petra Costa (ELENA) witnesses their rise and fall and the tragically polarized nation that remains.

The Edge of Democracy will be exhibited as part of "The Retreat of Democracy: Resisting in Times of Intolerance" Film Series, organized by Brazilian graduate students in RLL, History, and ALARI. Co-sponsored by The Hutchins Center for African and African American Research and the Afro-Latin American Research Institute (ALARI).

In Petra Costa’s work the personal and the political are inextricably linked. The Edge of Democracy is the third documentary of a trilogy where Petra investigates her family story. The first, Undertow Eyes, portrays her grandparents recollections and stories, in a personal and existential tale about love and death. It screened at the MoMA in 2010 and won best short Film at the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival 2009, Best Short Film at the London International Documentary Festival, and Best Short Film the 13th Cine Las Americas International Film Festival, among others. The second of the trilogy, Elena, her first documentary feature, is a mixture of documentary, diary, and fever dream, and was the most-watched documentary in Brazil in 2013. It tells the story of two sisters, as one searches for the other their identities begin to blur. The film was called “a cinematic dream” by The New York Times, “haunting and unforgettable” by The Hollywood Reporter, and was defined as a “masterful debut that takes nonfiction where it seldom wants to go – away from the comforting embrace of fact and into a realm of expressionistic possibility” by Indiewire. Elena premiered at IDFA followed by SxSW and Hotdocs, and won many prizes such as Best Film at Havana Film Festival (2013), Best Film at DOCSDF, Best Directing, Editing, and Best Film for the popular jury at the Brasília Film Festival, and was nominated for Best Cinematography at the 2014 Cinema Eye Honors. Beyond this trilogy, Petra co-directed Olmo and the Seagull which, according to Joshua Oppenheimer, director of The Act of Killing, "explores with thrilling boldness a space between fiction and nonfiction that I never dreamed possible.” It was reviewed by Télérama as "a reflection without taboos, full of humor and daring, on creation in the broadest sense." Olmo and the Seagull premiered at Locarno where it won the Young Jury Prize. It also won the Best Nordic Dox Award at CPH:DOX, Best Documentary at the Rio Film Festival, Best Documentary at the Cairo Film Festival, and Best Narrative at the RiverRun International film festival, among others. In 2019 Petra was listed among Variety's 10 documentary filmmakers to watch. Petra started her training in theater in Brazil at the age of 14 and later went to the Dramatic Arts School at the University of São Paulo. She completed her undergraduate studies Summa Cum Laude in Anthropology at Barnard College, Columbia University, New York, and completed her masters in Social Psychology at the London School of Economics, focusing her studies on the concept of trauma.

Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, literary scholar, journalist, cultural critic, and institution builder, Professor Gates has authored or co-authored twenty-four books and created twenty-one documentary films, including Wonders of the African World, African American Lives, Faces of America, Black in Latin America, Black America since MLK: And Still I Rise, Africa’s Great Civilizations, and Finding Your Roots, his groundbreaking genealogy series now in its sixth season on PBS. His six-part PBS documentary series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2013), which he wrote, executive produced, and hosted, earned the Emmy Award for Outstanding Historical Program—Long Form, as well as the Peabody Award, Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, and NAACP Image Award. Professor Gates’s latest project is the history series, Reconstruction: America after the Civil War (PBS, 2019), and the related books, Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction and the Dawn of Jim Crow, with Tonya Bolden (Scholastic, 2019), and Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow (Penguin Random House, 2019).