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Favela Rising (2005)

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A man emerges from the slums of Rio to lead the nonviolent cultural movement known as Afro-reggae.

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Credited cast:
Andre Luis Azevedo ...
Jose Junior ...
Michele Moraes ...
Anderson Sa ...
Zuenir Ventura ...


A man emerges from the slums of Rio to lead the nonviolent cultural movement known as Afro-reggae.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Their music fueled a movement. His message fought a war.




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Release Date:

10 March 2006 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

Afro Reggae  »

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Did You Know?


A significant part of the archive footage showing police violence was not made at Vigário Geral, but in other areas of Rio de Janeiro, and widely shown on Brazilian TV news programs. See more »


Referenced in 30 for 30: The Two Escobars (2010) See more »


Tô Bolado
Performed by Afroreggae (as AfroReggae)
See more »

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User Reviews

Not just a sense of rhythm
16 April 2006 | by (Berkeley, California) – See all my reviews

Favela Rising is a documentary about the slums of Rio, the favelas, specifically the most violent one, Vigário Geral. According to this film, a lot more kids have died violently in Rio's favelas over the last decade or so than in Israel/Palestine during the same period -- a fact astonishing if true, which shows how under-recognized this social problem is in the rest of the world. This is an important topic, especially for those who see hope in grassroots efforts to marshal the neediest and most at risk through a vibrant cultural program. This is a compelling documentary, if occasionally marred by a somewhat too personality-based version of events and by grainy digital video and film that sometimes may make you think you need to have your eyes examined.

Drug lords rule in the favelas and gun-toting teenage boys are the main drug dealers, like in parts of Colombia. Fernando Meirelles' movie City of God/Cidade de Deus has been accused of celebrating violence (Cidade de Deus is another of Rio's many favelas). But the early section of Favela Rising shows that in fact favela boys do celebrate violence and want to deal drugs where the money and the action are. It's cool to carry a gun there, cool to work as a drug trafficker: it's fifty times more profitable than the earnings available by other means.

Mochary first discovered the AfroReggae movement and its leaders Anderson Sá and José Junior while visiting Rio for a conference and quickly persuaded his friend and mentor Zimbalist to quit his job and come down to help make a film with his own promise to fund it. Sá's eloquence and charisma and a startling twist in his life make him the center of the film and its chief narrator, but like the favelas themselves the film teems with other people. No doubt about the fact that Sá is a remarkable leader, organizer, and artist.

Vigário Geral is compared to Bosnia: shooting there was very dangerous. Anderson Sá's friendship and protection and caution and diplomacy in the shooting enabled the filmmakers to gain access and shoot detailed footage of their subject matters while (mostly: there were close calls) avoiding any serious confrontations with drug lords or drug-dealing cops. They also trained boys to use cameras and left them there on trips home. That resulted in 10% of the footage, including rare shots of violent incidents including police beatings. It's hard for an outsider to keep track of police massacres in Rio. There was one in the early 1990's that looms over the story and inspired Sá, who ended his own early involvement in drug trafficking to lead his cultural movement. The cops are all over the drug trade and if anybody doesn't like that the ill trained police paramilitaries come in (often wearing black ski masks) and shoot up a neighborhood, killing a lot of innocents.

This is pretty much the picture we get in Meirelles' City of God, except that this time Sá, Junior, and the other guys come in, starting in Vigário Geral but spreading out eventually to a number of other favelas to give percussion classes that attract dozens of youth -- girls as well as boys. Their AfroReggae (Grupo Cultural AfroReggae or GCAR) program, formed in 1993, is a new alternative way of life for young black men in the Rio ghettos. It leads them to leave behind smoking, alcohol, and drugs (that's the rule) to explode into rap, song, percussion, and gymnastics in expressive, galvanic performances. Eventually the best of the performers led by Sá wind up appearing before big local audiences with local producers, and their Banda AfroReggae has an international recording contract.

Other centers and groups have been created by or through the GCAR over the years in Vigário Geral and other favelas to seek the betterment of youth by providing training and staging performances of music, capoeira, theater, hiphop and dance at GCAR centers.

The performance arts aren't everything, just the focal point. GCAR is also a movement for broader social change Gathering public awareness through such performances, the centers also provide training in information (newspaper, radio, Internet, e-mail links), hygiene and sex education, to seek to bridge gaps between rich and poor, black and white, and to offer workshops in audio-visual work, including production of documentaries. The program is currently active in four other favelas.

There are many scenes of favela street and home life in Favela Rising and they look very much like the images in City of God with the important difference that the focus and outcome are very, very much more positive. Not that it isn't an uphill battle. And the corruption of the police, the inequities of the social system, and the indifference of the general population of Brazil are not directly addressed by any of this. But there's a scene where Sá talks to some young kids in another favela, cynical boys not enthusiastic about AfroReggae and determined to work in the drug trade as Sá himself did as a boy. Sá doesn't seem to be convincing any of them despite pointing out that traffickers don't make it to the age of fifty. But we learn that the most negative boy in this group, Richard Morales, joined the movement five months later. There's also the account of a freak accident that disabled Sá, but with a positive outcome.

It would be great if the images were sharper and clearer and if the story were edited down a little, but this is vibrant, inspiring material and represents committed, risk-taking documentary film-making and it's nice that Favela Rising has been included in seven film festivals and won a number of awards, including Best New Documentary Filmmaker at the Tribeca Film Festival. It's currently being shown at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. However, a wide art house audience in the US seems somewhat unlikely.

Included in the SFIFF 2006.

9 of 13 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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