Favela Rising (12A)

Directed by Matt Mochary, Jeff Zimbalist
Screening at FACT from 16th June 2006

Reviewed by Adam Ford

Eight times more children have met a violent end in Rio de Janeiro than in Israel and Palestine combined during the last fifteen years. In a city where the vast majority live in sickening poverty, drugs seem like the only escape for many. Rival gangs patrol the streets of the Vigário Geral ‘favela’ (or slum town), and most children end up being ‘soldiers’ for drug lords. Anderson was one of those kids, until he saw police massacre many of his neighbours in reprisal for attacks on their number. Anderson decided there was no future in his old lifestyle, and formed a rap group called Afro Reggae, whose lyrics promote non-violence and honest graft. This is their story.

And when I say it is their story, I mean it. ‘Directors’ Mochary and Zimbalist become mere extensions of Anderson’s publicity machine, promoting him as a Jesus-like saviour. The people of Vigário Geralare shown playing up to this, and come across as desperate people casting around for a messiah.

It all started off as a great community enterprise. The group pooled their meagre resources, each person recruiting and teaching another, until they formed a big group of rappers, dancers and drummers. In 2001, Afro Reggae got signed up by Universal, which meant that Anderson and a few of his friends got to record. To their credit, they used most of the money to set-up more drumming and dancing classes, even putting on massive free shows in neighbouring favelas.

Our ‘hero’ makes much of this self-sacrifice, whilst trying to take the credit for reduced crime rates in the favela. But he gets everything bass ackwards. Everyone who lives in a city knows that the most violent areas are those with the most unemployment. People don’t turn to drugs and petty crime because it’s ‘cool’, they do it because they see no better alternative. The reason the violence declined is that employment increased, and that is down to economics, not a rap group. The music looks like a lot of fun, but it’s not going to stop any violence because it’s not putting food on the table of anyone but Anderson and his hangers-on.

In an unintentionally revealing scene, Anderson uses his celebrity status and attendant camera crew to harangue an eight-year-old boy about working hard in school. But the kid clearly doesn’t believe the hype, replying that school is ‘shit’ and that his only chance is to be a soldier. Towards the end, an increasingly deluded Anderson is nearly paralysed in a surfing accident, and puts his recovery down to a sea goddess who decided that he was too important to be immobile. Presumably this was the same goddess that threw him against the rock in the first place.

Favela Rising portrays the same gang violence that was seen in 2002’s incredible ‘City of God’, but it’s much more a work of fiction than its scripted counterpart. To make matters worse, the picture is horribly grainy, having been transferred from digital cameras to 35mm film. I found myself staring through the distortion, looking for clarity that never came.

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