Session 11: Eduardo Coutinho

Watch the films: Man Marked for Death and Last Conversations can be viewed anytime between 25 March and 3 April via the Essay Film Festival online screening room. LINK HERE.

Live event: Join us on Saturday 3 April for a study day devoted to the work of Eduardo Coutinho, with a talk by Fábio Andrade, and contributions from Cecilia Sayad, Victor Guimarães, Lúcia Nagib, Jordana Berg, and Consuelo Lins. This event will be chaired by Raquel Morais. 3 April 2021, 14.00 – 19.00. Book here.

This programme brings together two films by Brazillian filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho – Man Marked for Death (1984) and Last Conversations (2015). The films will be accompanied by a study day devoted to his work, with a talk by Fábio Andrade, and contributions from Cecilia Sayad, Victor Guimarães, Lúcia Nagib, Jordana Berg, and Consuelo Lins.

Film information:

1/ Man Marked for Death [Cabra marcado para morrer], Eduardo Coutinho, Brazil, 1984, digital [35mm], 119 minutes Portuguese with English subtitles

In 1964, Eduardo Coutinho began shooting a fictional feature about the assassination of João Pedro Teixeira, leader of a peasant league in Sapé, Paraíba, in the Northeast region of Brazil. In that same year, the shooting was interrupted by the coup that installed a military dictatorship (1964-1985) in that country. Having filmed only less than half of the script, the cast and crew had to leave the location, abandoning their film equipment and materials, which would later be seized by the government.

Seventeen years later, in 1981, Coutinho decided to resume the project, returning to the original locations, where he searched for João Pedro’s widow, Elizabeth Teixeira, who played the protagonist in the abandoned feature, as well as other participants. While radically distancing himself from the initial fiction project, the filmmaker revisits the retrieved shooting material and shows it to its actors, who elaborate on their experiences during the shooting and its aftermath. The director develops the new film around a permanent dialogue between the past and the present, a constant obsession in his work.

While Coutinho’s return to Paraíba was motivated by his wish to complete the unfinished film and to meet people from the past, the central theme becomes the time elapsed between the two moments and the changes it produced. This includes the different paths taken by the lives of each participant after the dissolution of the struggles, as well as, ultimately, how detached Coutinho became from a social-realist conception of cinema, and how this latest version of the film emerges as a new proposal.

Man Marked for Death is built upon the significance of individual experiences and testimonials as both documents and driving forces in uncovering history, the construction of memory and truth, and the critical role played by cinema in this process. By re-examining the images from the 1960s, now reframed as historical documents, the film self-critiques its original purposes, while still recognizing its political investment and seeking a way to make its inscription in the present.

Watch the film: Man Marked for Death can be viewed anytime between 25 March and 3 April via the Essay Film Festival online screening room. Check this page closer to the event for a link to the screening room.

2/ Last Conversations [Últimas conversas], Eduardo Coutinho, Brazil, 2015, digital [35mm], 85 minutes, Portuguese with English subtitles

Composed of interviews with Brazilian secondary school students, from state schools in Rio de Janeiro, the initial premise of Last Conversations was to explore how adolescents think, dream, and live – an implicit hint on the connection between an idea and putting it into practice. Eduardo Coutinho died before the film was completed, leaving 32 hours of footage and a filled notebook. Based on these elements João Moreira Salles, producer of some of Coutinho’s previous works, and Jordana Berg, who was his long-time editor, created the feature, which, to some extent, is no longer Coutinho’s film. 

The main question Salles and Berg had to ask themselves was what film they would be editing – a question we see the filmmaker himself trying to answer, in what ended up being the opening interview of Last Conversations. A desperate Coutinho elaborates on the challenges of making the film, which came up to replace two previous frustrated projects, revealing the creative crisis he was going through: Adolescents are precisely the embodiment of coming into form – stranded between childhood’s undecidedness and adulthood’s fixedness. The director’s hostility towards his characters seems to originate from his obsession that nothing in the shooting is taking shape as he would like: ‘lately everything I do goes wrong’, we hear him saying. 

Similarly, Salles and Berg had to patch up the existing footage and the remaining notes with the notion of what a film in the style of Coutinho would be, as if they could write down in images the filmmaker’s now silenced consciousness. After an initial edit they did not feel was right, the two had to reconsider the excessive obedience to their starting point. Making a movie in the style of Coutinho would potentially mean accommodating what was born out of the encounter with the filmed material, a defining concept in the director’s filmography.

Last Conversations came to be about Coutinho’s method while at the same time being made according to that method, which means it is, above all, an experiment about form, an investigation into the way conversations take place and a reflection on the connection between theory and practice.

Watch the film: Last Conversations can be viewed anytime between 25 March and 3 April via the Essay Film Festival online screening room. Check this page closer to the event for a link to the screening room.

Live Event: Films to Be Made: A Study Day on the Work of Eduardo Coutinho

Join us on Saturday 3 April for a study day devoted to the work of Eduardo Coutinho, with a talk by Fábio Andrade, and contributions from Cecilia Sayad, João Moreira Salles, Victor Guimarães, Lúcia Nagib, Jordana Berg, and Consuelo Lins. 3 April 2021, 14.00 – 19.00. Book here.

In the context of the screenings of Man Marked to Death (1984) and Last Conversations (2015) as part of this year’s edition of the Essay Film Festival, this study day explores the work of Brazilian documentarist Eduardo Coutinho (1933-2014), by combining two panel discussions and a lecture. Bringing together researchers, critics and long-time collaborators of the filmmaker, this event addresses questions of authorship, appropriation and the notion of the unfinished film.

One of the most prominent figures in Brazilian and Latin American documentary, Coutinho studied film direction at IDHEC, in France, before beginning a career in fiction. This trajectory would soon be revised by his involvement in television, when the director started working for Rede Globo as a reporter in the 1970s, an experience which would strongly determine his practice as a documentarist.

His filmography, spanning over a period of almost fifty years, is strongly based on the interview format and the conversational mode, dialectic forms which Coutinho reworked throughout his career, focusing on a variety of aspects of the Brazilian reality and social history, such as labour movements, the lives of the working class, religion, theatre, politics, always through the prism of individual experiences and encounters.

Proposing the essay film as a useful framework to address Coutinho’s filmography, within which concepts like non-fiction, theatricality, truth, and subjectivity come into play through a self-reflexive approach to the filmic form, we will consider the filmmaker’s practice as a committed examination of the potentialities, limits and interstitial spaces of the documentary format and the film medium.

In this study day, we will focus on three films which stood as unfinished projects for a period, before being developed and concluded as meditations on their own impossibility of existence. The three works account for the diversity of Coutinho’s filmography, while also reflecting its main topics and obsessions: Man Marked for Death (1984), which revisits the footage of an abandoned fiction film, twenty years after its shooting; A Day in Life (2010), a collage of TV footage revaluated by the filmmaker’s appropriation gesture; and Last Conversations (2015), a film shot by Coutinho and completed by two of the director’s long-time collaborators after his death.

Programme of Study Day, Saturday 3 April 2021

14:00 BST: Discussion around Man Marked for Death with Cecília Sayad (University of Kent) and Victor Guimarães (film critic and independent programmer), chaired by Lúcia Nagib (University of Reading)

16:00 BST: A Day in Life: A Lecture by Fábio Andrade (New York University)

During one day in October 2009, Eduardo Coutinho recorded 19 hours of television footage, broadcasted by eight different channels in the state of Rio de Janeiro, from cartoons to talk-shows, newscast to soap operas, advertisement to religious and political content. The filmmaker later used these images without authorization, selecting and incorporating them in a collage which seems as chaotic as it is complex. The opening credits of A Day in Life (2010) present the material as research for a future project, which challenges, from the first minute, the very status of the work. 

Described by Coutinho as a ‘television film’, A Day in the Life reframes and re-evaluates TV footage, its meanings and worth, namely by recontextualizing this material and by exploring the border between cinema and television, a frontier that interested Coutinho throughout his career: ‘it’s like television, but it’s cinema’, the filmmaker announces in Man Marked for Death, one of the three works included in this programme.

Departing from the conception of A Day in Life as a non-existent film, researcher and PhD candidate Fábio Andrade (New York University) will offer a lecture on this offbeat production within Coutinho’s filmography, addressing its hybrid nature, the research facets of the work, its invisibility due to rights issues – it was not commercially distributed and took an alternative circulation route – and the implications of these elements.

The film reveals numerous impressions on Brazilian television and society, without ever articulating them clearly – no off narration was included and visual additions to the original footage were equally minimal. Alongside its social and political dimensions, the work constitutes itself as a quest for cinema and its nature. In its rough and tumultuous aesthetics, A Day in the Life destabilizes its own identity as a filmic work, playing with the potentialities of appropriation films, by exploring notions of property and authorship.

18:00 UK time 

Discussion around Last Conversations with Jordana Berg (film editor), João Moreira Salles (filmmaker, producer) and Consuelo Lins (filmmaker, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro)


Film Quarterly: José Carlos Avellar & Eduardo Coutinho (translated by Krista Brune): THE EMPTINESS OF THE BACKYARD: AN INTERVIEW WITH EDUARDO COUTINHO. 69(3), 2016, 44-55.

Catherine Grant, Reframe: Celebrating the work of Eduardo Coutinho