Saturday, 9 June 2012

Review - Favela Rising (2005 - Dir. Jeff Zimbalist & Matt Mochary)

A laudable and interesting documentary based in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.  It's possibly as gritty as documentaries get in terms of both style and subject matter, but never really registers on the excitement-o-meter. The film follows the lives and work of  Brazilian musicians and youth organisation AfroReggae as they battle to save local kids from the clutches of the drug cartels and lure them into more wholesome pursuits of music making.

The star man in the proceedings is head honcho Anderson Sa, who comes across as a man of complete integrity and honesty. He strives to educate children on the dangers of becoming drug soldiers, performs with his rap group and generally acts like the voice of common sense. The moment where he stands firm against a lynch mob from the neighbouring favela is particularly impressive, however the most moving scenes in the film show his stunning work in drumming workshops with local children banging a range of plastic containers and tins to produce inspiring music. 

The documentary is shot in a edgy, gritty style with handheld cameras, silhouetted interviews and secret footage of the drug gangs, which combine to give the impression that the film-makers were taking their lives into their own hands on the streets of the favelas. There are also some lovely panoramic shots of Brazilian landscapes which add to the feeling of the vast scale of urban poverty in Rio. It's ultimately successful in presenting this dangerous and deprived area in a more positive light, and almost acts as a perfect source of background information for South American gritty film fans. The real life Elite Squad cops make an appearance and if anything are even more extreme in their real life exploits than in the film, Elite Squad!

Despite all the positives you can't help but feel that the film would be better suited to the small screen and doesn't quite have the cinematic star quality or detail of top documentaries like Into the Abyss. It's enjoyable and inspiring, but possibly only suited to committed grit fans or world music lovers.

If you like this you could also try:
Carandiru, Elite Squad, Bus 174, Sin Nombre.

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