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Documenting Presence: the author, the body and the nation in the films of Eduardo Coutinho

Sayad, Cecilia (2010) Documenting Presence: the author, the body and the nation in the films of Eduardo Coutinho. In: Society for Cinema and Media Studies 2010, March 2010, Los Angeles, CA. (Unpublished) (KAR id:36381)

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This paper explores the question of documentary authorship and representation through the idea of cinematic presence. The work of Brazilian documentarian Eduardo Coutinho serves as case study for both an investigation of authorial self-inscription and a redefinition of the practice of documenting “the nation”. Though belonging to the 1960s cinema novo generation, Coutinho has been at his most prolific in the 1990s and 2000s, when he has famously revised the role of sociologist that used to define the politically engaged Latin American filmmaker by shunning interpretation and analysis. Instead, the director stresses the encounter between camera and subject. As he consistently avoids ‘illustrative’ and ‘representational’ images, Coutinho has structured his documentaries as talking heads, with scenes depicting the film crew setting up the stage for the interview, or arriving at specific locations—much in the style of cinéma-vérité. The director believes that the only reality the camera can capture is the reality of the shoot. What his films document is the encounter between filmmaker and subject—or the product of what Ismail Xavier has called the ‘camera-effect.’ By generating (rather than simply capturing) reality (to use Michael Renov’s expression), the filmmaker becomes a central actor in the documentary—his physical presence shapes the interviewees’ behaviours and speeches. Coutinho’s on-screen presence is thus a structuring element, and his recurring and unmistakable image has become a trademark—indeed, his authorial ‘signature.’ Finally, the director is interested not in the accuracy of the discourses uttered to the camera (and to himself), but in how director and apparatus lead the subjects to ‘perform.’ Rather than the content of speeches, Coutinho privileges the materiality of the voice—the accents, syntax, or, to invoke Barthes, the voice’s ‘texture’ and ‘grain.’ Drawing from Deleuze’s Time-Image, I define Coutinho’s films as constituting a cinema of bodies, where the materiality of the body weary of, or marked by previous experiences is privileged over the narrative of such experiences. Finally, no summary would ever do justice to the essence of Coutinho’s films, for they constitute not cinematic representation, but a cinema of presence.

Item Type: Conference or workshop item (Paper)
Uncontrolled keywords: documentary, authorship, national cinema, corporeality, interview methods
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1993 Motion Pictures
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Arts
Depositing User: Cecilia Sayad
Date Deposited: 14 Nov 2013 12:16 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2021 10:13 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
Sayad, Cecilia:
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