How series and films expose journalism’s mistakes and successes – 01/25/2023 – Ilustrada

In the documentary “Escola Base – Um Repórter Faces the Past”, journalist Valmir Salaro remembers when he reported, in Jornal Nacional, in March 1994, that four adults were being accused of abusing children at that school in São Paulo. The complaint, it turned out later, was false. Salaro takes responsibility for the tragedy that has turned the lives of those accused since then.

Targets of lynching, the accused were unfairly arrested. Salaro says that the desire for the scoop made him skip stages of a good investigation. “I thought I had true information, of public interest, so I had more than an obligation to disclose it”, he says. It is this case that he evokes in the documentary released in November by Globoplay.

“Escola Base” is part of a wide range of films and series that explore the backstage of journalism. The problem is that the film rides on Salaro’s guilt and paints him as an evil journalist in search of redemption.

“The documentary is cruel because I am also cruel to myself”, he says. He became one of the main faces of that coverage.

“I’ve done a lot of reporting and I’ve always been a storyteller, a privileged observer. In documentaries, I’m the villain of the story. It’s a strange feeling”, he adds.

For Lisandro Nogueira, who is a professor and doctor in cinema and journalism, it is precisely because of cinema that journalists are seen as heroes or villains.

“Cinema helps build the image of the journalist as someone who has a mission to accomplish. It creates the idea that the professional can also be a villain, in a Manichean format”, he says. Filmmakers have come to resent journalists for film reviews, he said. “Cinema lives at the mercy of journalism,” he says.

Ironically, the professor’s impression is shared by Valmir Salaro himself, despite the fact that he suffers from what happened in the Escola Base case almost three decades ago. “A journalist is not a hero,” he says.

Remembering journalistic coverage of controversial cases is a wave strengthened by the rise of “true crime”, a genre that brings famous crimes to the screen. Ivan Mizanzuk, creator of the podcast that gave rise to the series “O Caso Evandro”, says that journalism should be held responsible for the conduct it assumes in cases of great repercussion.

“It is inevitable that the press is an active character, which influences, creates pressure and generates expectations. ‘True crimes’ need to show how the press determines the direction of an investigation”, he says.

That’s what the series “Route 66: The Police That Kills” tries to show. Also released by Globoplay, the production adapts a book by Caco Barcellos that has been studied in journalism schools for years. The works show how the journalist discovered and denounced the existence of a death squad within the São Paulo Military Police.

It is neither a documentary nor a fiction series. With Humberto Carrão in the role of the Globo reporter, the production adapts the facts to make the plot more seductive and look like a crime series. “Rota 66” shows a side, let’s say, not very glamorous of journalism. In the series, Barcellos is punched in the nose when he begins his investigation.

It is possible to find similarities between Salaro and Barcellos, says Caio Cavechini, one of the directors of the feature “Escola Base”. “There is a certain obsession with work. We see it in Caco’s desire to get to the end of that paperwork. In Valmir’s case, this obsession is more in the sense that he feels he could have done differently”.

Cavechini, who in addition to being a documentary filmmaker is also a journalist, compares audiovisual productions about journalism to those starring doctors. “The reporter needs to make decisions immediately and be in contact with shocking stories. There is no way to get away from media coverage or a medical call. It is a very rich raw material for the audiovisual.”

An example is the feature film “Spotlight: Secrets Revealed”, which took the Oscar for best film in 2016 by portraying a group of reporters who investigate priests who abuse children.

Two years later, in 2018, the renowned Meryl Streep was nominated for the best actress category at the main film awards for playing the owner of The Washington Post newspaper in “The Post – The Secret War”, a film that debates the American journalistic market and the freedom of the press. The film was also nominated for the best picture statuette.

“Colectiv”, a Romanian documentary nominated for best documentary and international film at the Oscars in 2021, is part of the fire that consumed the title nightclub and left dozens dead. Afterwards, it shows how sports reporters discovered a corruption scheme in the country’s Ministry of Health.

The investigation led to public protests and the resignation of the Romanian Prime Minister. The film shows how competent journalistic coverage can bring about social change.

“Holy Spider”, a film that had a successful run at Cannes last year, follows a journalist determined to investigate the case of serial killer Saeed Hanaei. He was known for roaming the streets of Mexede, Iran, looking for prostitutes and drug users to kill.

The film was chosen by Denmark to try for a place in the category of international film at the Oscars this year and even managed to get a pre-nomination for the statuette, despite not having advanced in the dispute. It’s enough to note how the award really has an eye on features that dissect journalism.

The role of the press in the resolution –or in the absence of conclusions– of major crimes is also discussed in documentaries about the ex-deputy Flordelis, convicted of killing her husband, and also in the series “Brutal Pact – The Assassination of Daniella Perez”, who dives into the case of the death of Gloria Perez’s daughter.

In addition, in 2021, two films about the Suzane von Richthofen case were released. That same year, Mizanzuk saw “O Caso Evandro”, a documentary series based on his extensive podcast, reach the screens, which changed the course of the investigation into the disappearance of a six-year-old boy in Paraná.

It would be impossible to revisit these stories without mentioning the media. These are productions that depend on newspaper collections, and on radio and TV programs to tell the stories with reason.

“O Caso Evandro”, for example, shows how journalism at the time contributed to the arrest of two innocent women accused of witchcraft. Excerpts from television interviews and newspaper headlines appear on the screen to assemble the complicated puzzle of Evandro’s disappearance.

The influence of the foreign press in controversial cases also reached the screens. The MeToo movement, for example, is referenced in “The Morning Show”, an Apple TV+ series with Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon in the role of morning newscasters.

The plot was reformulated after the outbreak of accusations against men in Hollywood, and begins when former employees of the fictional station accuse a host of that newspaper of sexual harassment. The second season of production, postponed because of the pandemic, included Covid in the plot.

Released in November, “She Said” took to theaters the true story of two New York Times reporters who investigated the allegations of rape and sexual abuse against producer Harvey Weinstein. The publication of the scoop was precisely followed by the explosion of MeToo.

“Intelligent filmmakers approach journalism with poetry, in addition to showing its importance and the problems of the profession”, says Nogueira, the professor.

Not everything is poetic in the profession, as shown by “Escola Base”. Eliane Scardovelli, one of the film’s directors, says that was exactly the intention. “By showing the journalist’s work more closely, we contribute to taking away that image of God that the professional has. He is a worker with mistakes and vacillations.”

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