Filmmaker Silvio Tendler defends the SUS in the documentary “Health has a cure”

posted on 06/21/2022 06:00

  (credit: Xeno Veloso/Disclosure)


(credit: Xeno Veloso/Disclosure)

It was in 1985, on the skin, that filmmaker Silvio Tendler needed a CT scan, at Santa Casa da Misericórdia in Rio, equipped with the only device for the purpose. The apparatus was donated by the government. Service, hospitals and excellent equipment are on the tip of the director’s tongue, when dealing with the latest film: the documentary Health is curable. “My mother was a doctor, and, due to her retirement, she never became part of the SUS. She died in 1995, and the SUS was just created. She was a doctor in the public health system: I have always seen exemplary treatments”, he observes. Highlighting plots of affection, competence and professionalism, Tendler also knows the reverse side of the coin: “Of course the SUS has many problems, and it’s no use covering the sun with a sieve. But, bad with it, much worse without it”.


  • Technology and humanity form fronts of the documentary
    Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz)


  • Solidarity on stage
    Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz)


  • Relaxation permeates movie moments
    Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz)


  • Research is ahead of the facets covered by the SUS
    Photos: Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz)

The topic of health has long inhabited the director’s filmography, who has already created films such as The poison is on the table (2011), on pesticides, and Family size agriculture: an alternative to agribusiness (2014). In the course of his life, the neurologist Paulo Niemeyer Soares, brother of the architect Oscar, was vital for Tendler’s health care at the time of the 1980s. And well before computing one of the richest private image collections in the country, with more than 80 thousand units, Tendler narrowed his relationship with Brasília, before winning the JK medal — JK Centenary (awarded by the MinC in 2003) or even directing the TV Brasília and have been DF’s Secretary of Culture and Sport.

At the age of 72, Tendler reiterates his determination, after dealing with romanticism and abolitionist principles in films, to promote a politicized panel of themes in the work that goes through privatization, the financial system, barriers to social justice, popular culture and ancestral knowledge. Not to mention that professor and historian Tendler also addressed, on screen, icons such as JK, Jango, Marighella, Ferreira Gullar and Carlos Zéfiro.

Interview // Silvio Tendler

What is the most pernicious content, when it comes to dismantling the Unified Health System?

Pernicious in relation to the SUS issue is the chronic lack of funding. The SUS is one of the most beautiful public health projects in the world and, surely, the most underfunded, even acting in a beautiful way, it never received adequate resources. It is as if there was a malicious operation to throw the population against the construction of the SUS, as if they had a wish that it would not work out. And they present everything as if the population itself rebelled against it, and demanded its destruction. I’ll give you an example: the thing you find most in the media is people complaining about the quality of care, the hours you spend in line at a hospital to receive care or, even more, the months and years you spend in line to get an appointment. a procedure. So, this is the most pernicious factor: the attempt to prevent the SUS from succeeding, that it be the concrete realization of the dream of that generation that created it, especially for users who want to have quality health — health has a cure, the film represents exactly that: recognition of the importance of SUS and the need for it to be respected. The pandemic showed the importance of SUS and now we need to move on to the second phase. Reorganize the SUS, funding its activities, generating resources and also rethinking the administrative form so that the population loves and recognizes it – as it did during the pandemic.

What is the decisive factor in the efforts of SUS employees?

the commitment of SUS employees and social structures is not only recognized by me — it is recognized by the Brazilian population as a whole. We have all seen that, without the SUS, the tragedy that took almost 700,000 people to their deaths would have been much more serious had it not been for the efforts of these employees. So I think the SUS proved the importance of its existence. The SUS employees are much more than we can imagine: there is an extremely huge complex. We recognize many cutting-edge activities, which are the UPA, the hospital, and the doctor. We don’t know that the SUS trains people: there are schools, research centers and vaccine production. The SUS is extremely complex and broad. It has recently functioned almost like an orchestra: everyone was applauded and recognized. You have people from all walks of life wearing the lab coat; this is an extremely important thing. I believe that the SUS will have the necessary funding because, now, the population is more vigilant. It will start to charge, and SUS will leave the pages of criticism, of complaints, to stay on the pages of claiming rights. We will manage to change a picture of the past, which has prevailed until today, and we will have the SUS we want.

You have a very complex career — is there any way to unify interests?

I think you can aesthetically have different periods, styles and themes. A work is never linear. There are those who hold, in their memory, a grouping of my films, thematically, but I have many things that go beyond the biography of three presidents: that of JK, made in 1980, that of Jango, which dates from 1984, and still that of Tancredo Neves (2011). In the 1980s, I did The magical world of Trapalhões (1981), which brings data from one of the biggest groups of Brazilian comedians with the biggest box office in cinema. I have steel memory which deals with the national history of the national steel industry. I have a film about the poet who is Castro Alves (1999), there is a film about a revolutionary who is the marighella. There is the one by scientist Oswaldo Cruz, one about geographer Milton Santos (2016), in 1995, I made the film by José de Castro, an ecologist and a guy who fought hunger. My work is much more complex than people know.

Does politics still interest you?

Currently, I am making a film about Leonel Brizola, about a politician who always dreamed of being president of the Republic, did not achieve his dream, but permeated a lot of the historical panels that I told. It’s all more complex than trying to frame myself as a biographer of the presidents of the Republic. I got this criticism of only talking about the upstairs in the past, but I have a lot of films with very broad and differentiated themes. I treat with the same affection the biographies of the presidents of the Republic. As for the future, I think we really need a renewal in politics and in the training of new generations. I really miss the politicians I worked with. I think leadership training is getting more and more rare. And I am very afraid about the management and governance of Brazil, with this pandemonium that we are experiencing. Let’s go.

Was there room to learn in the new film?

How many people were treated throughout Brazil in the five thousand municipalities in the country that were treated at the height of covid-19? How many were received in the ICUs? How many people were saved by the struggle of SUS employees, and who often worked in subhuman conditions? This is the great learning: the employees’ battle to save lives, the number of people vaccinated in Brazil, all through the SUS structure. Today, 70% of the Brazilian population is vaccinated until the second dose and, a little less, is in the third: everyone is assisted free of charge by the structures – this is concrete proof of the functioning of the SUS. There were people displaced by plane, by helicopter, in order to be treated. Concretely, I give the Manaus numbers. When there was a homicidal and irresponsible action, which lacked oxygen in Manaus, the national mobilization, even not only of the SUS, the mobilization worked a lot to save lives in the riverside Amazon and lives in the interior. I can only answer you: Long live the SUS.

Is it all just celebration?

When you get involved in a job with the dimension of what I’ve just done, I think the best thing – and I’ve brought this from the beginning of my career – is not to do a white plate portrait. One should never try to hide the realm of problems—it’s all about exposing, revealing. I think the worst tribute you can pay a personality, for example, is to believe that it is a saint, that the person is exempt from any kind of criticism. In the case of the new film, it was no different: I interviewed people who speak well and people who speak badly. I think the debate is important: raising questions even to improve the quality and performance of the SUS. Everything ends my method of work, as a documentary filmmaker. I’m not a publicist: I don’t need to hide reality to promote a product. I have to speak the truth, deal with reality.

What characters marked you in health has a cure?

Every character in the film is very rich and always highly respected. This from the patient who is admitted to the hospital emergency room, on the verge of death, and dances a forró, in the ward, along with the doctor who attended to her. That, for me, is a very moving scene. There is the scene of Dr. Jurema Werneck, a black doctor, today, representing amnesty in Brazil. She tells the story of her mother — she talks about her father being a porter at the Air Force hospital — and how they didn’t have the right to use the hospital. Her mother had a stroke and was treated with aspirin, as a favor, by a doctor. Her mother dies, and Jurema becomes a doctor and fights for public health in Brazil. The film brings continuous struggles: there is the boy from Rio Grande do Sul who has a spinal cord problem, and is treated, completely free of charge — he even receives the medicine and is alive, thanks to this action. I think the balance is extremely positive.

health has a cure

Documentary by Silvio Tendler about the Unified Health System. Free access in: https://youtu.be/b-kZMfwvKsM

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