Malcolm Forest's film unveils Brazil's storied past and unique path to independence

The country’s first constitution granted rights that inspired discussions in Europe


Brazil has a history of independence unlike that of any other country. While fiery libertadores like Bolivar, O’Higgins and San Martin led the epic wars of independence against Spain in bloody South American battles, Brazil's independence emerges from elements of loyalty, philosophical struggle, enchantment, and romanticism depicting a journey that brought about its transformation from a colony to an independent empire before it became a republic.

In a cinematic revelation, world avant-premiere of director Malcolm Forest's documentary film, Jornada dos Principes - The Journey of the Princes, unveils the storied tale of Brazil’s path to independence with intimate detail, recreating the grandeur of the time.

The film, honouring Brazil's bicentennial cycle that celebrates a series of pivotal events that shaped the destiny of the country, brought voices, history and music across the centuries to the screen in Brasilia this June.

The avant-premiere was held at Austria's embassy in Brazil, in deference to the role and history of Austrian princess Maria Leopoldina Carolina Josefa de Habsburgo-Lorena, whose influence on the development and independence of Brazil reverberates strongly to this day.

The noble efforts of Austrian ambassador Stephan Scholz in preserving the historical connections between Austria and Brazil also serve to champion and uphold the legacy of the young Austrian woman whom most Brazilians know simply as Dona Leopoldina, Empress of Brazil; and director Forest resurrects the persona of Empress Leopoldina, eloquently revealing her significant contribution in shaping the trajectory of Brazilian independence.

“They had music in common... they had the Fatherland in common... together, they made Brazil's independence,” begins the documentary which depicts the people, colour, music, and the story with important dates and events that form the intangible patrimony of the creation of Brazil.

The documentary retraces the journey of Dom Pedro, the Prince Regent of Brazil and son of King Dom João VI of Portugal, Brazil’s colonial power, from the capital Rio de Janeiro to São Paulo where he declared independence, giving birth to the Empire of Brazil and becoming its first emperor.

At the intersection of cinema and history, the documentary film emerges as a portal to the past, guiding audiences through a journey that intertwines personal narratives and grand historical events, revealing the intricate tapestry of bygone era.

With Forest's signature blend of reverence for history and philosophical introspection, the film revisits the visually stunning locations where significant events took place, delving into rich descriptions of familiar narratives.

Filmmaker Malcolm Forest Filmmaker Malcolm Forest

Director Forest uses breathtaking cinematography and a meticulous attention to historical accuracy in showing the soul behind the story of Brazil's birth. The documentary manages to do this with a level of intimacy that captivates and enlightens in providing a profound understanding of the rich cultural heritage that shaped Brazil.

The portrayal of Dom Pedro and Dona Leopoldina's relationship serves as a window into the broader narrative of Brazil's birth as an independent state. Their bond becomes a metaphor for the strong ties that held Brazil together during its formative years, and their love story humanises the grand historical events, making them relatable and emotionally resonant.

"My dearest Dom Pedro,

"In this momentous hour, I find myself compelled to pour out my heart to you, my beloved husband and the leader of our cherished Brazil. The time has come for us to seize our destiny and carve a path towards independence.

"Oh, Pedro, the spirit of freedom resonates within me, and I believe it stirs within the hearts of our people as well. The yoke of colonial rule has become too heavy to bear, and the longing for autonomy echoes through our vibrant land."

The letter, in Dona Leopoldina's handwriting appearing on the screen, captures the unique path of Brazilian independence, adding a personal and emotional dimension which was contextualised in a combination of intellectual analysis by Forest and historical context by Brazil's preeminent historian Dr Jose Theodoro Mascarenhas Menck and others.

 Scholz, Austria's ambassador to Brazil, said the film contributes "hugely to renew the understanding of the history... and the early days of independence."

"Brazil last year celebrated its bicentennial," said Ambassador Scholtz. "We all lived through 1976 when the US celebrated 200 years, and [19]89, when France celebrated. Both these countries set up huge commissions that reviewed history teachings, history curricula and tried to bring new perspectives new findings of the early days of independence, and the struggle for independence."

Noting that the film catalyses a similar process in Brazil, Scholtz said the educational aspect is powerful in projecting how Brazil in early years was perceived in Europe. "How this young, young country became a matter of discussion in the saloons of Vienna because people were fascinated with flora, with fauna, with anthropology, and on the other side they were also fascinated with your liberal constitution of 1824 which gave many rights to the people which central Europeans did not enjoy during that time."

Emperatriz Leopoldina was known for her deep appreciation of botany, art, and music, and left an indelible cultural imprint on the country. Her father, Francis I of Austria, Emperor of Austria and the last ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, sent to her extensive scholarly works and scientific instruments that facilitated her in-depth study of botany, science, and culture, ultimately contributing to Brazil's intellectual and scientific development.

She supported scientific expeditions and corresponded with renowned botanists of the time, contributing the foundational understanding and documentation of Brazil's rich botanical diversity.

The preview screening before diplomats, government officials, and an audience or notables received a standing ovation on its second night of showing before the Brasilia Women's Club.

Jornada dos Principes presents a powerful portrayal of a slice of history that shaped Brazil as a nation, said pioneer Brasilian, historian, and longtime civic and arts patron Cosete Ramos, speaking after the screening.

Through a personal and intimate portrayal of Dom Pedro and Dona Leopoldina, the documentary showcases the challenges faced, from political tensions and external pressures to internal conflicts in the country's journey towards independence.

Director Forest is also a noted composer, singer, actor and cultural producer whose international career spans several decades in which he has garnered international acclaim.

The film's soundtrack fills the air with music authored by Dom Pedro I, and original compositions by the film director, Malcolm Forest. In the sum, the narrative evokes a range of emotions as it takes viewers along a historic ride that pays homage to the unique history of Brazil.

The documentary is headed for screenings across Brazil as well as major cities and world capitals as a prelude for worldwide broadcast.


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