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I'd have little to add to bowlofsoul23's bull's-eye comment here. But
as the first Brazilian (born, raised and living in Rio de Janeiro, in a
neighborhood just a few miles away from the favela of Vigário Geral,
depicted in the film) to comment on U.S.-financed "Favela Rising" here
on IMDb, I get mixed feelings: on the one hand, it's good that the dire
situation of Brazilian favelas are getting more attention from
filmmakers and the media, both from Brazil and abroad, since local
governments seem to have given up a long time ago. One the other hand,
it's incredibly frustrating that "Favela Rising" turns out to be such a
missed opportunity for enlightening Non-Brazilian audiences on the
issue, because first-time directors Jeff Zimbalist and Matt Mochary
(who are from the U.S. and, understandably, neophytes on the matter)
turn the biography of AfroReggae group leader Anderson Sá into a
glamorous canonization in this superficial, one-sided, under-researched
and misleading documentary. Good intentions, muddled results. "Favela
Rising" looks like a TV-ad, is shallow as a prime-time TV interview,
and biased as a promotional video.
"Favela Rising" feels uncomfortably phony for a Brazilian viewer, and not only because of its hype visual treatment of a bleak reality, and its misplaced feel-good happy- ending. "City of God" is an obvious reference here, with COG actors Leandro Firmino and Jonathan Haagensen cameoing for no apparent reason other than "hype". "Favela Rising" is, allegedly, a documentary about the AfroReggae group and its leader Anderson Sá, but beware: when you see the scenes shot in favelas overlooking the beautiful Rio shore line, you might as well be warned that Vigário Geral (the home of AfroReggae and Anderson) is located in an area of Rio far away from ANY beach. Strange choice of location, to say the least.
"Favela Rising" is probably confusing for non-Brazilians, who won't know many of the interviewees (and the film won't tell them either) and will have to wait for the closing credits to find out that many of the songs on the soundtrack are NOT by the AfroReggae Band (though you'll get suspicious when you start to hear Pink Martini, of all people!). They won't know either that important issues were simply left unmentioned: why does the film push the notion that AfroReggae is a one-man project? Why not acknowledge the many partners who supply it with substantial financial and logistic support, like Rio's City Council, private Brazilian corporations, multinational recording companies and international NGOs, without which AfroReggae might not even subsist? Why not state clearly that Vigário Geral is still plagued by violent drug wars, and that its dwellers still live in constant fear of attacks by traffickers and cops? Why not state clearly that many of the archive footage clips showing police violence and corruption did NOT take place in Vigário Geral? HOW and WHY did the kid Richard Murilo finally join AfroReggae? WHY on freaking earth wasn't he interviewed once again at the end of the film?
As for Anderson himself, the film leaves a lot of loose ends for the viewer: what's the story about Anderson having "two" mothers? Is the baby he holds in his arms his son? Why is he inspired by Shiva? Is he a Buddhist? Why does a Candomblé woman appear on the beach when the films mentions Anderson's "miraculous" recovery from the accident? Is he a Candomblé follower? Why not let him explain the contradiction of starting a group that fights drugs and simultaneously praises Bob Marley? If AfroReggae is also a pride-building movement for black people from favelas, why are the girls in the AfroReggae band limited to booty-bouncing routines? No, you won't get any answers to these questions either.
Instead, the filmmakers are interested in turning Anderson Sá into a composite mix of pop-star, Malcolm X, Gandhi and Christ (check out that last image of the statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado hill, immediately after showing Anderson "miraculously" walking after his surgery). And that's the WORST thing the filmmakers could do to Anderson and his cause: turn him into a special CHOSEN one (by the time they show his surgery scar, you're ready to believe it's a mark from God).
Because what's remarkable about Anderson -- who's the most ordinary guy you could ever meet -- is that he helped change his environment NOT by being "special" but by copying and adapting winning projects (like the Olodum movement in Bahia, among others) to his own community, with strong support by friends, artists, intellectuals, politicians, businessmen and the media. If you're not fluent in Portuguese you probably won't notice that Anderson isn't particularly bright or articulate (unlike his sharply witty partner José Junior), as much as he isn't particularly talented as a singer, lyricist or musician. Yet his "ordinariness" might have been the film's true "inspirational" core: to show that ANYONE with idealism, perseverance and steady support can in fact contribute significantly to his or her community, no need to be Jesus incarnate. Because what really matters is the movement -- AfroReggae -- not the guy, see? Haven't we had enough of personality cult?
By the end of "Favela Rising", you probably won't know much more about Rio's favelas than you did when you walked in -- you'll just have SEEN what some of them look like.
I actually found out about Favela Rising via the IMDb website. I have a
particular interest in Afro-Brazilian culture and films. Favela Rising
is one of those gems that gives a new meaning to human transformation.
Beautifully documented and filmed by Jeff Zimbalist and Matt Mochary
its the story Anderson Sa, a former Rio De Janeiro drug trafficker who
after the deaths of family members and friends becomes a Christ-like,
Malcolm X, and Ghandi all rolled into one. Sa formed AfroReggae, a
grassroots cultural movement that uses Afro-Brazilian hiphop,
capoeira(Afro-Brazilian Martial Arts)drumming, and other artforms to
transform the hopeless and most times angry youth into vibrant, viable,
caring community loving individuals.
A few years ago I remember going to a screening of City Of God (Cidade De Deus) and walked out of the theatre completely numb. The images were grim yet stunning and you couldn't take your eyes off the screen. I remember how hopeless some situations were in the Favelas and how decadent the society was due to the governments neglect. How drug trafficking was a way of life, how indifferent the citizens of the slums were because death was an every day occurrence. Like City Of God Anderson Sa talks about how the people of the favelas were also desensitized. He talks about the police corruption, and how the communities were so immobilized by drugs and gangs that you couldn't visit family members in other Favelas you had to meet in a neutral location. Unlike City of God Anderson Sa's grassroots movement AfroReggae provides solutions to the anger, the hopelessness.
There was one part in the documentary where Anderson, in the spirit of a preacher approached some youth and asked them to join AfroReggae. These jaded youth were so scarred by everyday survival and violence. Their role models were drug dealers and this is what they aspired to be. Anderson told then that drug dealers don't live very long. There was reluctance of course but five months later he was able to get some of the youth to join AfroReggae.
The visuals in Favela Rising are beyond amazing. Its clear to me that Jeff Zimbalist and Matt Mochary are not only great story tellers but visual artist as well. This is a must see documentary! There are some really magical and transforming moments in this documentary. I don't want to spoil them for you. I want you see it for yourself. Please tell your friends, academics, youth counselors, family members about this wonderful film. It will make you care about the world and our children.
I would give it eleven stars!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm surprised with the questions and issues this documentary has
brought up in the reviews here, specially because they're indeed
interesting questions. Surely, the ones who could best address it would
be the makers of the film themselves. Nevertheless, I think I can shed
some light upon something that I think has been overlooked, which is,
in my opinion, the purpose of the film, what it is about and what it's
trying to convey. What's its message after all? At the risk of pointing
out the very obvious, I'll start saying the filmmakers have an
intention. They're trying to tell a story, extract meaning out of it
and get a point across. With this in mind, we can shoot down many of
the criticized points, particularly the ones involving what people
expected in contrast with what the filmmakers were really trying to
show. Causes and consequences of violence? The film is not about that.
It's not "enlightening Non-Brazilian audiences" about the Brazilian
favelas' issue? Well, who wanted to do that? Is AfroReggae this or that
and supported by whom? It doesn't matter in this context. Not enough
women in the film for your tastes? It's not about equality or the
feminist cause. Every little detail about Anderson's life, mother, son,
family and all the aspects and the workings of the AfroReggae movement?
Well, don't be so picky because it doesn't matter. There's just so much
length a story can have before it can't become a film anymore. If the
authors were to show everything everyone is expecting, they'd have to
make a 6 months TV series instead. If you are expecting all that, you
approach the film the wrong way.
The film is actually about two individuals who started a movement. Two individuals full of ideals. Two individuals who thirst for change. Two individuals trying to do something about all the wrongdoing going around them. Individuals who went rock bottom and wanted to get up again. It's all about finding purpose in life, drawing inspiration from misery, changing the destiny and becoming something else than what they were destined to be -- criminals and drug dealers for that matter. It's about achievement and hope and not about the cruel reality of violence in Rio de Janeiro, though it's an integral part of the film given that's what the characters are constantly surrounded by. Unexpectedly and not without a reason, the film ends up centered much more on Anderson's course through difficulties in life. This is because they were faced with Anderson's accident while they were shooting the film. I'm not sure about this, but they may have even seriously considered ending the filming right there, leaving behind all effort spent. But Anderson wanted to keep going. And so they did, risking to lose in having a film with a bit of an identity crisis, considering the sudden change of course, but gaining in showing someone overcoming such a devastating happening. It's very evident for who watches it that the film begins about AfroReggae and winds up about Anderson. It's very unique in this sense (the shift of the story line). Maybe their only sin is not making it evident upfront, which may initially rise expectations that will go unfulfilled.
As for the importance or ordinariness of Anderson, I'd say not everybody wants to change the whole world, end all violence, feed all the hungry, be like Mahatma Ghandi, be as known as Mother Teresa or whoever other known personalities there are. It's much easier to relate to and draw inspiration from someone who is, such as everybody else in fact, trying to transform his or her own harsh life, raising problematic kids, coping with permanent injuries or diseases and even managing to pay the bills by the end of the month. To understand the movie you have to see that's about leaving behind a past of involvement with drugs and crime, making up for it, and trying to persuade others not to go down the same troublesome path. Though you can criticize if the way they chose to do it is effective and doubt the ideology of the method, you cannot deny their intentions.
Also, the perception that Anderson is special or a chosen one may have partially something to do with the fact that the filmmakers became very involved in the lives of the characters they were depicting. As much as becoming friends with them. There's no way it wouldn't tint the whole movie with a more favorable light over Anderson. If a dear friend becomes paralyzed in an accident, it's not just a fact, you make a big deal out of it. And this is not necessarily bad. It's not much that they treat him like "a chosen one" as much as they go to great lengths trying to show him as a seed for transformation and source of inspiration.
In conclusion, don't watch this documentary for the scenes of the reality of poverty and crime it contains, watch it for what it is much more, an inspirational story.
Nike-Ad-like? Seems just damn good and professionally made to me and doesn't affect or detract from the intentions of the film. Romanticized? Speculate on its credential as a documentary if you will, but why not when it's supposed to cause reaction and inspire? Isn't trying to better people's lives through music and dance -- the essence of what the subjects are trying to do -- romanticizing the very own reality? Pardon me, but showing just the plain facts is what reporters do and you can watch it on TV every night.
If I wanted to become a filmmaker, I wish my first film would also be this great.
For once a story of hope highlighted over the tragic reality our youth face. Favela Rising draws one into a scary, unsafe and unfair world and shows through beautiful color and moving music how one man and his dedicated friends choose not to accept that world and change it through action and art. An entertaining, interesting, emotional, aesthetically beautiful film. I showed this film to numerous high school students as well who all live in neighborhoods with poverty and and gun violence and they were enamored with Anderson, the protagonist. I recommend this film to all ages over 13 (due to subtitles and some images of death) from all backgrounds.
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
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.
Scintillating documentary about how a small group of idealistic young
men have used music, art and dance to unify and heal the community of
Vigario Geral, one of the most violent slum neighborhoods in Rio
("favela" means neighborhood in Portuguese), offering to its young
people a positive alternative to the lethal gangster world of drug
In their feature film-making debut, Zimbalist and Mochary have crafted a movie that is breathtaking because it works on so many different levels. As social document, it gives the facts we need to know to have a context for understanding the significance of the particular story told here. The story itself is well developed, with a strong narrative arc, and, for added measure, it is shot through with keen suspense. There's an arresting, charismatic central protagonist, Anderson Sa: he's a savvy natural leader, articulate, courageous, spiritually evolved, a talented performer, a visionary who walks his talk.
There's also plenty of music and dancing to entertain. There are talking heads mainly Sa and his closest associate, Jose Junior - but they are presented with imaginative cinematic brilliance. The editing nicely mixes footage of differing themes, punctuated only occasionally by a few fact-filled still texts. The pace is as lively as the music. A lot gets accomplished in 78 minutes.
Grupo Afro Reggae, the neighborhood social club that Anderson, Junior and a few others formed in 1993, deploy music and dance as the weapons to go up against the drug lords and the duplicitous police. They teach percussion skills to any kid who wants to join a class, along with dance, martial arts, a community newspaper. The only requirement for kids to belong is no smoking, no drinking, no drugs. There is a subtle, soft sell spiritual fabric running through the movement, loosely based on the Hindu God Shiva, the destroyer of old habits.
Jeff Zimbalist, who also was the lead cinematographer and the editor, is a Modern Culture and Media student at Brown University. He burnished his chops editing feature documentaries for PBS and others, and he teaches film at the New York Film Academy and elsewhere. Matt Mochary, like Andrew Jarecki ("Capturing the Friedmans") did a few years ago, recently came to film from the business world.
Zimbalist and Mochary together won the award for best new filmmakers at the 2005 TribBeCa Film Festival, and "Favela Rising" was tied for the best film of the year in awards made for 2005 by the International Documentary Association. I could go on for pages about Afro Reggae, Sa, and this movie. A way better idea is simply for you to go see it! My grade: A 10/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The producer, Matt Mochary, stumbled upon the film's subject, Anderson
Sa (leader of the AfroReggae music movement), when on a Hewlett
Foundation trip to Rio de Janeiro. Mochary was so moved by Sa's story
that he called his friend, NYC filmmaker Jim Zimbalist, who quit his
job and joined Mochary in Brazil to work on a documentary on Sa, Rio's
favelas, and the culture of violence.
The first part of the film shows you the culture of violence in Rio's favelas (shantytowns where the poor live) via footage of police raids and assaults on the residents. The footage is graphic and shocking.
Rising from the negativity of the favelas is the charismatic Anderson Sa, who overcame a possible career in drug dealing to start the AfroReggae movement, which combines elements of Afro-Brazilian culture, Reggae, ska, and other elements into a fast-paced, percussion heavy style of music which has since spread to other parts of the world. You can't help but be carried away by the music, especially when you see the local children get involved in Sa's school, which he founded to keep kids out of drug gangs. The rest of the film follows Sa's meteoric rise and his positivity changes many of the children's lives to seek a life beyond drug running. SPOILER: Just when the filmmakers thought they had wrapped filming, an unbelievable life changing event occurs of which the resolution has to be seen to be believed. The film then continues and you are gripped in your seat until the end.
This film is a response to "City of God," and a worthy one at that. The bleak situation portrayed in that movie is countered by a real example of how favela dwellers can overcome the dire situation they are in and use their resources to constructive ends. You can't help not liking and rooting for Anderson Sa to succeed.
This film is terrifically shot, fast-paced, and is quite absorbing. Judging by the overwhelming response of the audience at last night's SilverDocs screening, the film should get domestic distribution in the US and the thumping soundtrack should be released as well. Keep an eye for this superlative documentary--it is excellent!
Documentary content: Amazing man, amazing movement he started, amazing
stories- most of them yet to be really told.
Celluloid treatment: Nike Ad. Sorry, ain't got nothing else to say about this but that you can say all you want about the dire circumstances in the favelas, but... if you attempt to support that claim with flashy and romanticized images and camera-work of that life, the humbleness necessary to show this life as an outsider filmmaker goes out the window. And with that goes the legitimacy of the narrative. Besides that, the time-space continuum in the film is all off, and I'm not necessarily against that in films as a tool, but here it serves only to confuse the viewer into wondering what was said when; thus leading me to the question: is this a documentary or a docudrama?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Rio de Janeiro, the home of Carnivál, sun drenched beaches, and one of
the most famous statues in the world is also the home of one of the
most violent neighborhoods in the world. Jeff Zimbalist and Matt
Mochary delve deeply into the war zone that is Vigario Geral in Favela
Rising a powerful and moving documentary which displays both the lowest
levels of humanity and the ability to rise from the depth to
Favela Rising documents a man and a movement, a city divided and a favela (Brazilian squatter settlement) united. Haunted by the murders of his family and many of his friends, Anderson Sá is a former drug-trafficker who turns social revolutionary in Rio de Janeiro's most feared slum. Through hip-hop music, the rhythms of the street, and Afro-Brazilian dance he rallies his community to counteract the violent oppression enforced by teenage drug armies and sustained by corrupt police. At the dawn of liberation, just as collective mobility is overcoming all odds and Anderson's grassroots Afro Reggae movement is at the height of its success, a tragic accident threatens to silence the movement forever.
Mochary and Zimbalist utilize gritty and deliberately off focus cinematography as well as archival footage from some of the most violent events in the history of the favela in sparing none the grisly truth of life in the streets, the massacre of the innocent and the police corruption the film portrays. The film's bleached out look, along with the decidedly videoesque film style lead to the credibility of the project. Zimbalist, a former instructor at the New York Film Academy and his student Mochary, were told on more than one occasion during filming that their lives were in danger. The film's use of performance footage from the Banda AfroReggae succeeds in breaking the downward spiral that the film would otherwise evoke. The music is hypnotic and energetic, the lyrics socially conscious. The directors allowed children of the neighborhood to participate in the project by providing them with cameras during the concerts to capture the essence of the group. Anderson's interview is dramatically portrayed despite the subtitles and sometimes overzealous use of echo effect.
The films definitive political agenda draws a wary eye to the documentary's editing choices, and in fact the directors discuss the films evolution in the bonus section. Initially the project was to cover 4 people from each "district" of Rio, the affluent and the poor, but Anderson was severely injured and the directors chose to completely redo the film despite 3 months of work. Following a fractured neck, Anderson receives a "miracle healing" which allows him to return from a paralyzed state. The effect of this change on Anderson inspired the filmmakers not only to change the course of the film, but also inspired the title. Anderson's rise to his feet following a horrific injury is mirrored in the change the favela itself found following the AfroReggae movement. The finished project is decidedly moving, telling the tale of a third world region that is striving to regain its identity and dignity; however, the images do not always coincide with the tale being told. During the film there are scenes from Military Police training facilities in which the police are portrayed as preparing for "guerilla" warfare with the citizens of the favela. It is not until the bonus features that it is learned the police have joined forces with AfroReggae and begun working with the group. The cooperation is possibly the key that allowed the filming inside the training camp, though the initial film misleads that point.
A documentary about a Brazilian band, Afroreggae, which was born as a
reaction to the massacre of 21 people by police in retaliation for the
murder of four policemen by a drugs gang in a Rio de Janeiro ghetto.
The musical project provides youngsters with an alternative to the life of crime and violence lived by so many as a means of survival. The film also tells the story of Anderson Sa, founder of the band, and if the band's success is miraculous then so too is his recovery from paralysis resulting from a surfing accident. His personal triumph over despair neatly symbolises the Favela band's success against the odds.
An inspirational film.
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