Saturday, March 11, 2006

FAVELA RISING - like RIZE but for real, in Brazil and worse

Another week, another documentary about under-priveleged minorities escaping poverty and violence through organised youth groups specialising in music and dance. Here we have newbie documentary makers, Matt Mochary and Jeff Zimbalist, focusing on the work of Anderson Sa. Anderson is a good guy who escaped from drug-dealing in the favela/slums of Rio to become the leader of the Afro-Reggae band, and also the wider Afro-Reggae movement. Broadly speaking, he is the Tommy the Clown of Rio, luring kids from the camaradery and coolness of being a drug-lord (oh, yes!) into being part of his respected musical crew.

As far as it goes, that is a moderately interesting story. But you should not be suckered in by marketing claims that this is a companion piece to CITY OF GOD. It is far thinner on substance and social analysis, clearly much less technically accomplished, and far more manipulative. The quality of the transfer from digital to 35mm film is horrible. The contrast is so off that it really distracted me from watching the film. At first, I wondered if this was a deliberate effect but not so. The co-director, Mochary, boasted in an after-screening Q&A that film-makers should not be so obsessed with production values but find a good story. While I agree that substance is important, style also matters. Paying a little more attention to lighting in the sections filmed by the professional documentary-makers would have paid dividends. Granted the DV footage shot by the favela inhabitants themselves is going to be bad, but does the rest of the footage have to comply with this lowest technical common denominator?

But my really big objection is to the credulity of the film-makers. They bought into Anderson Sa's mythic status without questioning it one iota. Anderson Sa clearly is a very good man, but also a good self-publicist. He pumps up the Christian imagery, portraying himself as a "saviour" of the slum. When he suffers an accident that renders him a paraplegic, we are supposed to believe that he made a MIRACULOUS recovery. Both myself and my colleague, The Professor, turned to each other in disbelief. Were we really expected to swallow the idea that a spoooooooooky woman had visited Anderson in the night and promised him that the frickin' Sea God would make him walk again? Or were the documentary makers being disingenuous? After all, Mochary admitted after the screening that he had deliberately let certain implicit misdirections slide. Maybe it doesn't matter whether or not Anderson was miraculously cured - the key point is that this is what the people in the favela believe. But the documentary-makers could have made that more subtle point. What FAVELA RISING needs is someone like Werner Herzog, who subverts the Timothy Treadwell/"Kind Warrior" self-image in GRIZZLY MAN. All we got was a shameless cash-in on the CITY OF GOD hype that looked like a promo-reel.

FAVELA RISING premiered at Tribeca 2005 where it won an award. It is currently on extrremely limited release in the UK. Apparently HBO have bought it for the US market.FAVELA RISING premiered at Tribeca 2005 where it won an award. It is currently on extrremely limited release in the UK. Apparently HBO have bought it for the US market.

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