You don’t have to believe in climate change to experience and understand the devastating effects of a drought. The northeastern part of Brazil is no stranger to this condition which has plagued the region for decades yet people continue to live there. If you are a wealthy landowner, you can survive the seasonal hardships but if you are a poor migrant worker, life is a constant struggle. Vidas Secas (English title: Barren Lives, 1963), directed by Nelson Pereira dos Santos, is the portrait of a family of four and their dog as they wander the arid deserts and sun-baked landscapes of northwestern Brazil in search of work, water and food. Set in 1941 and covering a two-year period in their lives, the film is considered a landmark work in the Cinema Novo movement, which emerged in the late fifties and focused on marginalized communities and people, often using non-professional actors, real settings and black and white cinematography in the manner of Italian Neorealism.
Prior to the 1960s, it was unusual to encounter more than a few women film directors working in Europe, much less the U.S. One of the rare exceptions was Astrid Henning-Jensen, who is considered one of first female directors in the Danish film industry to achieve international recognition. Two other female contemporaries of Henning-Jensen, Bodil Ipsen and Alice O’Frederick, were equally famous in their native Denmark but Henning-Jensen is the only one to enjoy wider recognition in America due to her 1959 film, Paw aka Boy of Two Worlds, which was an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film that year (It lost to Black Orpheus).