BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — A government warehouse storing movies, documents and antique projectors from Brazil’s film industry caught fire Thursday night in Sao Paulo.
The fire department said 15 fire vehicles and 50 firefighters were at the site trying to prevent the flames from spreading to a larger area of the building.
The warehouse is owned by the national film institute, Cinemateca, and houses South America’s largest collection of films, some made of cellulose nitrate, a highly flammable material. The films in the warehouse were copies for exhibition, not originals, and the extent of the loss wasn’t immediately clear.
Last year, a flood at the same warehouse damaged part of the collection. In 2016, Cinemateca’s headquarters in another area of the city also suffered a fire.
Public prosecutors warned in a lawsuit filed last year that there was a danger of fire at the Cinemateca warehouse, charging that the federal government had neglected to maintain the building. The suit also said there had been delays in paying the institute’s utility bills and wages.
In April, Cinemateca employees wrote an open letter decrying the institution’s abandonment and demanding it be reopened after being closed for eight months.
Eduardo Morettin, professor of audiovisual history at the University of Sao Paulo, was watching the firefighters work outside the building. “What we see here is part of the absolute disregard for everything that concerns the memory of our country,” he said.
Through his social network, Sao Paulo state Gov. João Doria, an adversary of President Jair Bolsonaro, called the fire a “crime against the culture of the country.”
Brazil’s Special Secretariat of Culture said in an emailed statement that it “deeply regrets” the fire and asked the Federal Police to investigate.
Without directly referring to criticism of support for Cinemateca, the agency said the federal government is committed “to maintaining its history. “The entire air conditioning system of the space underwent maintenance about a month ago as part of the federal government’s effort to maintain the institution’s collection.” it said.
Two other beloved Brazilian cultural institutions have suffered similar fates in recent years.
The National Museum in Rio de Janeiro had most of its structure destroyed by fire in 2018 along with much of its more than 20 million items. It is scheduled to reopen next year. In 2015, the Museum of Portuguese Language, also in Sao Paulo, went up in flames. Its reopening is scheduled for Sunday.
Associated Press journalist Tatiana Polastri in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.