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Films in school

The National Institute of Educational Filmmaking played a fundamental role in science instruction and dissemination in Brazil

Scenes from The discovery of Brazil (1937), by Humberto Mauro

INCE films available on

Amid the massive spread of North American films, Brazil managed to maintain strong cinematographic production in the mid-twentieth century, in part thanks to the Brazilian National Institute of Educational Filmmaking (INCE), which was established in January 1936. Throughout its three decades in operation, the institute produced more than 400 works, both short and mid-length films, with the majority dedicated to communicating about topics associated with science and technology. Filmmaker Humberto Mauro (1897–1983), from Minas Gerais, directed 357 of them. In the last two decades, some of these films became the object of study for researchers from various fields in search of understanding how they were used as a tool of communication and social integration, and how they contributed to building a national identity.

“INCE was the first Brazilian state-run organization to support the film industry,” reports Eduardo Morettin, audiovisual history professor at The School of Communication and Arts of the University of São Paulo (ECA-USP). “However, it was established during the dictatorship of the New State [1937–1945] and, in the midst of a larger project focused on the creation of a means of communication to serve president Getúlio Vargas [1882–1954] and his political and ideological objectives, is an example of what was happening in some countries of Europe,” he explains. At that time, Brazil found itself buried in debates over the paths to reach modern times and discussions about the limits of national culture and the roots of Brazilian citizenship.

As the primary means of communication, the radio was widely used by the State to promote national integration—the program A Voz do Brasil (The voice of Brazil), for example, was created by Vargas in July 1935. Over time, the potential use of filmmaking as a means to achieve unity, and as a symbol of progress, began to attract the attention of the leader. “Film will thus be a book of illuminated images through which our coastal and rural populations will learn to love Brazil, increasing their confidence in the country’s destinations,” said the then-president in 1934 before the Association of Cinematographers. “For those who are illiterate, this will be the easiest, most impressive and perfect pedagogical tool. For those who are literate and for those who are responsible for the success of our administration, it will be a remarkable school,” he added.

INCE facilitated more than 8,000 screenings in schools and cultural institutions in its first six years.

According to the 1940 Census, the illiteracy rate in Brazil for people 10 years or older was 56.8%. In Rio de Janeiro, the then-capital of the Republic, 34.1% of the population could not read or write, according to data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). “In a country where a large portion of the population is illiterate, film stood out as a means for education and for nationalism, both of which were part of the national strategy at that time,” notes sociologist Anderson Ricardo Trevisan, professor at the College of Education at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) and coordinator of a vast study about educational film in Brazil.

The support of Vargas’s administration for educational film sought more than simply taking education to every corner of the country. “The creation of INCE was aligned with the government’s interest to have a communication tool that addressed its nationalist objectives,” outlines the researcher. “INCE ended up becoming a great opportunity for the government to exercise control over what is produced in this field on a national level.”

The establishment of INCE was initially the result of a process that had been evolving since the educational reforms of 1928 led by academics and educators, such as Jonathas Serrano (1885–1944) and Francisco Venâncio Filho (1894–1946). For them, if aligned with educational objectives, the technique of filmmaking could transform society. “The proposal for the use of film as a teaching tool was widely promoted in Brazil’s key educational magazines,” informs historian Sheila Schvarzman of the graduate program in communication at Anhembi Morumbi University (UAM). “It was also promoted through books, such as Joaquim Canuto de Almeida’s Cinema contra cinema, published in 1931.” In São Paulo, educator and pedagogue Manoel Bergström Lourenço Filho (1897–1970) was very supportive of the initiative and, in 1931, promoted the Preparatory Exhibition on Educational Film. Through workshops, equipment exhibitions, and screenings of medium-length and feature films, the event demonstrated to politicians and teachers the pedagogical value of the seventh art.

INCE films available on youtube.comPedagogical purpose
Led by these educators, the project was supported by specialized film magazines, such as Cinearte. “The proposal of the educators was aligned with the integrity that critics wanted to give to Brazilian film,” explains Morettin, who studied the topic as a key element of his Brazilian film experience in the first half of the twentieth century. For the educators of this period, commercial fiction film—primarily comedies, dramas, and cop movies—could interfere with the moral development of young people and unravel the social fabric. “The only way to save filmmaking would be to use it for educational means,” notes the historian.

The State was on top of the debate. Its participation, beyond financial support, was deemed necessary by almost all educators who were concerned with this issue and considered it essential for the success of the undertaking. “They even advocated for creating a department that would censure commercial productions that did not have these characteristics, supporting the work of educators and producing films,” says Morettin. In response, Vargas decided to enact Decree No. 21.240 in April 1932, creating the film censorship service, in addition to establishing a film tax to be applied to the funding of the National Education Magazine and the defrayal of the National Film Library of the Ministry of Education and of the Technical Films Service in the Educational Support Section of the National Museum in Rio.

The so-called “federal censorship commission” was located at the National Museum under the direction of anthropologist Edgar Roquette-Pinto (1884–1954), whose interest for film existed prior to the creation of INCE, explains Alice Ferry de Moraes of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCRUZ) in Rio. Roquette-Pinto graduated from the School of Medicine in Rio de Janeiro in 1905. In 1912, he went with the Rondon Commission to Mato Grosso, where he produced the documentary about the Nambiquara Indians. He became the director of the National Museum in 1915 and, in April 1923, with the support of the Brazilian Academy of Science, he built the country’s first radio station to transmit cultural programming, Rádio Sociedade. As a member of the Educational Reform Movement of Brazil, he signed the Declaration of the Pioneers of New Education released in 1932, along with 26 other academics. The document, which was written by educator Fernando de Azevedo (1894–1974), defended the concept of a school that is unique, public, secular, mandatory, and free.

Beyond addressing restrictions around film screening, the declaration of 1932 also envisioned the creation of an organization focused on educational film. It served as a base for Roquette-Pinto to develop the project that would later give rise to INCE. For the anthropologist, film was a tool for teaching. “He used the European national films of that time period as a point of reference and followed with great interest the scientific film movement and the work of filmmakers, such as Lucien Bull, Eadweard Muybridge and the Lumière brothers,” remarks Ferry de Moraes. Roquette-Pinto led INCE between 1937 and 1947. The institute, which was fully equipped, was able to complete all stages of production and finalization of educational films, in addition to documentaries about national production in various sectors, such as the coffee-growing industry.

Scientific consulting
INCE began operations in March 1936, two months after its creation, with the support of Gustavo Capanema (1900–1985), then-minister of Education and Health, and with Vargas’s stamp of approval. Soon after, Roquette-Pinto contracted Humberto Mauro, one of the most important filmmakers of the time who directed films such as Sangue Mineiro and Ganga Bruta. With both esthetic sensitivity and technical acumen, Mauro enjoyed starting his projects with broader takes and, in the soundtracks, he used classical, national, and foreign music.

In the same year, he presented to the public the first documentary under his direction: O preparo da vacina contra a raiva (The preparation of the vaccine for rabies), with advisory support from Agnello Alvez Filho of the Pasteur Institute of Rio de Janeiro, and from Américo Braga of the Institute of Animal Biology. With images of the French chemist Louis Pasteur (1822–1895), the film sought to clarify for the viewer what a vaccine was and its immunological properties. The work was part of a series of educational short films shown at the Theater Palace in Rio. On September 7th of the same year, Dia da pátria (Independence day) was released and reserved for a screening in classrooms and cultural institutes. In the years that followed, The superficial muscles of the human body, The sky of Brazil, and Ribeirão of the Lages arrived.

INCE films available on Mills and power plants (1955) is part of the series Brasilianas, short films produced from pop songs selected by Villa-LobosINCE films available on

Many films produced by Humberto Mauro at the time when Roquette-Pinto was running the Institute favored the documentation of results of basic studies that were applied in various areas of medicine, public health and rural hygiene. Such was the case with films about new techniques for surgical asepsis, which were developed by surgeon Maurício Gudin (1883–1937) and studies of bacterial morphogenesis, undertaken by Dr. Cardoso Fontes (1879–1943). Produced in black and white, they were between 4 and 20 minutes in length—as was Fighting leprosy in Brazil, created in collaboration with the then-called National Leprosy Service. Some had sound, while others were silent, allowing for them to be shown in classrooms with teachers completing the explanations. “Many of them were promoted at international events, such as the World Fair in New York in April 1939,” notes Ferry de Moraes.

They were many researchers who worked in the background, assisting in the development of scripts and with the filming. For example, biochemist Carlos Chagas Filho (1910–2000), who contributed to the creation of Electrical properties of the electric eel and Myocardium in Culture I, physiologist Miguel Ozorio de Almeida (1820–1952) in Studies of physiology, and infectologist Evandro Chagas (1905–1940) in Studies of the great endemias. The orientation provided by these scientists was one of the fundamental purposes of the INCE project, according to Morettin. “The idea was for them to help guarantee the correct presentation of the scientific knowledge and its appropriate teaching,” says the historian. At the same time, informs Trevisan, “INCE’s emphasis on scientific educational films played an important role in the building of nationalism, through the demonstration of the country’s grandeur and lushness and the method of reform that was in the process of achievement.”

INCE films available on The bandeirantes (1940) was part of an ideological project of Vargas to create value for Brazil’s pastINCE films available on

Between 1945 and 1956, Mauro produced the series Brasilianas, a collection of seven short films created with the music of pop singers selected by Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887–1959) and Mário de Andrade (1893–1945). “The last of these films, Meus oito anos (My eighth year), based on the namesake poem by Casimiro de Abreu, can be viewed as a synthesis of the nostalgic spirit that permeates most of the director’s work,” notes Trevisan. “In this work, as in many others, landscapes are crafted with the care given to an idyllic painting, giving evidence to the love the director has for the rural universe.” It is not by chance that the directors of the Cinema Novo (New Film) movement, such as Glauber Rocha (1939–1981), would consider Mauro as a national film pioneer. Outside of screenings at the INCE auditorium, his films were shown at hundreds of schools and cultural institutions throughout the country—in the first six years alone, there were more than 8,000 screenings. “Mauro left a great legacy at the Institute. His films help us reflect on the Brazil he wanted to portray,” according to the sociologist.

The films favored documentation of the results of basic research carried out in the field of medicine

Roquette-Pinto left directing at the Institute in 1947 and his successor was Pedro Gouveia Filho, who remained there until 1966, when the directorship was assumed by filmmaker Flávio Tambelini, who was responsible for the new paths being taken by the Institute’s film production. Data available before 1943 indicate that 7,195 screenings took place in schools and 934 in cultural institutions. Scientific topics became less and less a focus, with the emphasis moving toward rural education, music, and regionality. In this same time period, INCE stopped the distribution of its productions, following the new political-economic order implemented by the military after the coup of 1964.

“The lack of equipment in the Brazilian school system, which was the result of the shortage of resources, also contributed to the reduction in the Institute’s activities,” notes Ferry de Moraes. Roquette-Pinto continued to fight to maintain the institution’s educational character, contrary to the wishes of the National Congress. He was not successful. In mid-1966, INCE was converted into the Department of Educational Films and incorporated into the recently established National Film Institute of the Ministry of Education and Culture. In the beginning of the following year, it was officially nonexistent. Its archives were distributed among various institutions. The majority of them, which are available to the public, are located at the Technical Audiovisual Center, which is associated with the Ministry of Culture in Rio and the Brazilian Film Library in São Paulo.

“The marks of what can be seen” in education: Sociological study about educational film in Brazil (no. 17/00047-8); Grant Mechanism Regular Research Grant; Principal Investigator Anderson Ricardo Trevisan (FE-UNICAMP); Investment R$29,863.58.