Henrique Dantas brings Sons of João, The Admirable New Baiano World to the James Bridges Theater
In the late 1960s, the musical landscape of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, was changing. A young eclectic group of musicians known as Os Novos Baianos was experimenting with new sounds and a new style that would inevitably garner a strong and loyal fan base.
Thirty years later, the band’s legacy would also inspire a filmmaker to share their story with the world.
Director Henrique Dantas was on campus on Nov. 30 for the American premiere of Sons of João, The Admirable New Baiano World, a documentary that uses a mix of archived footage more recent video and personal interviews with members of the band to provide an inside look at Os Novos Baianos, from its humble start in 1968 to its musical success and evolution, its growing pains and struggles and its ultimate dissolution a decade later.
Dantas grew up listening to a lot of Brazilian music, including Os Novos Baianos, partly because music plays such a prominent role in Brazilian culture and partly because of his father’s rule that Sundays were dedicated to listening to music – no television allowed.
“Os Novos Baianos is part of Brazil’s memory, and I wanted to bring this to the screen,” he said through an interpreter. The film was released in time for the band’s 40th anniversary.
The film, which was part of the UCLA Center for Brazilian Studies' Brazilian Film Series, has previously been screened in Germany, France, Spain, South Africa and Mozambique. In addition, it is enjoying a good run in Brazil, 21 weeks to date. Dantas said that its success is incredibly significant because big budget American films typically dominate public interest.
So far, he says, the film has garnered three film festival viewers’ choice awards and has been listed by Folha de São Paulo, which has the largest daily circulation of any newspaper in Brazil, as one of its top seven films of this year. It was the only Brazilian film on the list, he says.
Dantas is currently working on film projects related to Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1960s and 70s, and Janis Joplin’s 15-day trip to Bahia. He said he hopes his work will pique people’s interest in his homeland.
The Brazilian Film Series, which is free to the public, was created by Interim Vice-Provost for International Studies Randal Johnson when he was director of the Latin American Institute. Now in its fifth year, the aim of the monthly series is to reach out to the community in an accessible way and to share Brazil’s talent, stories and culture, says Johnson, who works in partnership with the Brazilian Consulate to bring these films to campus.
Johnson’s selection of Sons of João, The Admirable New Baiano World was based on his longtime love of the band. Johnson bought his first Os Novos Baianos album in 1972 while living in Bahia as a graduate student. “They were one of the most creative musical groups ever. The film gives contemporary audiences a sense of the atmosphere from which this group emerged during the military dictatorship.”
The next installment of the Brazilian Film Series, Head Over Heels, will be held at the James Bridges Theater on Jan. 11 at 7:30 p.m. The film, which is a comedy about self-discovery and the pressures of the modern woman juggling love and work, will be screened in Portuguese with English subtitles.