Hollywood in the making? Experiencing cinema and tourism in a small town of Brazil


Usually associated with urban metropoles, the creative cities model – the investment in the so-called creative industries as a means to revitalize stagnant economies – recently started to be adopted in different socio-economic contexts, such as rural areas and small towns. One example is Cabaceiras, a city of about five thousand inhabitants in the Northeast of Brazil that, in 2007, became the target of the project Roliúde Nordestina (Northeastern Hollywood, in free translation). The initiative promised to harness the existing potential of Cabaceiras as a filming location. Filmmakers are seemingly drawn to Cabaceiras because of its climate: the city has the lowest rainfall levels in Brazil and offers ideal light conditions for filming – conditions comparable to the ones that attracted filmmakers to Hollywood in the 1920s. The same characteristics that are beneficial for the cinema industry, however, are also signs of the hardship that Cabaceiras faces. The dry weather results in difficult drought periods and, on top of that, the local economy is fragile, with the main sources of income being agriculture, cattle farming and government jobs. In light of this scenario, the project Roliúde Nordestina attempted to offer Cabaceiras new paths for economic growth. The idea was to develop an adequate infrastructure for the city to sustainably attract film productions, and consequently generate job opportunities for the local population. Another goal was to promote tourism through the city’s cinematic vocation, engaging in the growing trend of film-induced tourism. Besides proposing a new policy orientation towards the investment in the creative industries, the project Roliúde Nordestina also represented a much-welcomed change in the popular imaginary about Cabaceiras. Until being rebranded as the Northeastern Hollywood, Cabaceiras was infamously known as ‘the driest city of Brazil’ and associated with extreme poverty. After more than ten years of the project Roliúde Nordestina, however, it is the question to what extent it has really improved the socio-economic status of Cabaceiras. How do locals experience and evaluate the legacy and impacts of this initiative? Based on document analysis and twenty-five in-depth interviews with policymakers and residents of Cabaceiras, this paper shows that many of the local stakeholders are critical about the implementation and long-term effects of the project. Although the respondents overall recognize that rebranding Cabaceiras as the film and tourism hub Roliúde Nordestina might have inspired a new sense of self-esteem and belonging in the local population, its concrete objectives have not yet been entirely accomplished due to several challenges that Cabaceiras faces, remarkably a scarcity of financial resources and its geographical and infrastructural characteristics. With this, we critically assess the celebratory discourse about the creative industries (particularly media and tourism), and analyse the possibilities and challenges of developing them in small and rural areas of the Global South.