I need to reemphasize the importance that what I say is from what I see and what I am open to experiencing. The expansiveness of Rio and its diversity make it a plethora of varied experiences. I have to be careful especially when referring to the ‘favelas’ because I am actually only in one of the thousand or so of these communities in the state of Rio. Rocinha is this community, pacified by the government in 2011 when police rolled in with tanks, putting the drug lord Antonio Francesco Bonfim Lopez in prison. His story in not what I expected and unlike the stories I hear from say the Mexican Cartels. Antonio got into sales when he needed to raise money for an expensive surgery to save his daughters life. Thus his drug ring began in Rocinha.
Unlike how the favelas are portrayed in the movie ‘City of God’, I don’t see any violence, drug trafficking, nor do I feel threatened or unsafe. The everyday robberies and assaults occur in the tourist places: cococabana on the beach, Lapa (the music scene), but not inside Rocinha. Granted we stay on the main roads and don’t wander off into the vast labyrinth, but the 16 deaths a day stat quoted on the news is between the dealers and the police in the favelas they are currently pacifying. For those that don’t know what pacification, read a somewhat biased article on it here. I’m starting to understand the controversiality of this government take over. These communities have been built on ‘drug’ money. For the longest time, the dealers instituted a rule of law over the community to protect the people and did many things to take care of the people in their community. For example, they had social programs for when say the father in a family got injured and couldn’t work, they payed for the materials to build the streets and houses, and way more. From what I hear its the police that can’t be trusted. I’ve heard many stories from locals that I’m not going to write that paint the police as corrupt, greedy villains. Im sure this does not describe each and every police officer, but there are enough of them to leave these bad impressions on the locals. I’m talking about large payouts, murders, bribes…I guess the typical corruption I’ve only known through Hollywood films until now. Either way its nice to be able to walk around the favela and not see guns on children as I heard was once common and probably still the case in many other communities. There is just a much more complex story to this pacification and I’m not so sure it is in the interest of the majority of the residence in Rio. The pacification started after Rio was selected for the 2016 Olympics in 2007. The pacifying forces are concentrated in areas with high visibility for people coming for this big event. There have been protests concerning the governments attention and spending of money on expensive projects like a cable car and metro, meanwhile not providing basic sanitation, healthcare, education, housing, employment opportunities. It’s not necessarily that these projects are unwanted, it’s just there are much more urgent needs that the government is ignoring. As always it has to be with money and generally the only story heard are the victors and the wealthy.
Another interesting analysis coming from my political theory background, just my opinion based on my observations and listening to locals, I feel that there may be, whether intentional or not, a more political affect to this pacification. Many of the drug gangs originated as leftist guerrilla resistance to the right-wing military dictatorship which was in power until the 80’s. Now this may be a stretch, but to me the favelas represent the fuel or potential force for any kind of government resistance. I understand that technically the party in power is the labor party and their driving force may actually just be to make these areas that were overrun with ‘crime’ better looking for the Olympics and World Cup, but there is certainly a potential association with power. There are so many people in such small dense areas, so closely connected, intimately united in their living conditions. Not only that but those in control of the favelas, the drug gangs, have weapons and obviously are force to be reckoned with as there are daily violent conflicts which challenge the government and police control. Even in pacified favelas the gang operation continues, just not as visible as it once was. I believe that anyone aware of power politics would recognize the potential threat of these communities. What if they stood together, united? I’m not saying this is the case, just I as someone who studied theories of power see the continued pacification as more than just a beautification effort.
This is a tangent to the video I’m currently working on here, but I feel an important aspect of life in the favela. As I mentioned in previous post, I hope to return to make a documentary focusing on the real story, the story people don’t hear about, the stories of the people of Rocinha. The vibrant and unique everyday life of each of the 300,000+ residence of Rocinha goes unheard, meanwhile foreigners and outsiders, including Brazilians, perpetuate stereotypes and ignorant assumptions, focusing on sensationalized violence which are stories of the past or at the antagonized invasions by police. Regardless, I don’t get the sense that these people are impoverished. Yes there are some poor living conditions for some, sanitation problems, but the general atmosphere wouldn’t make you think that it is a ‘slum’. The people i’ve experienced seem to be happy with their simplicities. It gives meaning to the expression that you don’t need much to be happy.
There are also so many interesting communities leaders helping to make the favela a better place and I’m trying to arrange interviews with some of them before I leave. One of these amazing people Elliot introduced us to is Zezinho. He runs a little but renowned DJ school primarily for the youth, but open to all ages. He invites them to come learn to be a DJ, giving them access to the most advanced Pioneer turntables that he claims no one else in Rio has. He also runs a tour company to pay the bills, but all the money he makes goes into his school. He is selfless in the sense that he could have bought a house with this money as the equipment he has costs around $25,000. That is dedication, and you feel that when speaking with him. He cares very much about helping this neighborhood and he cares about the impression that we have of it. Even though I already share much of what he expressed, he was adamant that we experience the real culture of Rio and very concerned to make sure we are safe when filming in the city. I appreciate his heart as it is large and encourage anyone in Rio to take a favela tour with him. Many tour operators prolong the negative stereotypes of the favela to make it more exciting or just because of their own ignorance. Zazinyo attempts to show you the real favela and what is really going on, not perpetuating cultural ignorances. If you couldn’t feel his love of this vibrant community emanating into your heart, you can see it literally tattooed onto his body as he has a number of Rocinha tattoos, including the actual favelas on his legs.
And back to production –
We did some filming on Ipanema beach this weekend. Tried to give people a taste of what to expect from a beach in Rio. In a few words, lots of people, extremely diverse, and beautiful views. This doesn’t do it justice, but being one of Rio’s most known attractions, I don’t think I need to try too hard. The one thing I will say is walking down Ipanema on Sunday when they closed the street, in a sea of: skate boarders, bikers, roller skaters, craft vendors, food stands, trash collection, bathing suits, families, groups of Brazilian kids; it’s a powerful fervor. It’s a feeling akin to standing in Times Square but with bikinis, speedos, and sun.
We also visited the ‘hippie’ market yesterday as well. Not sure why they call it that, but it is filled with amazing craft vendors of all kinds of art, jewelry, leather, clothing, crystals, and much more. I couldn’t help be in awe as I traversed through the crowd viewing the various canvas paintings. I hope our video will do Rio justice, but one thing is for sure, these talented artists have certainly captured and expressed the intensity, color, and beauty
We’ve still got tons of things to film. Tomorrow we are heading to the mountain they call Sugar Loaf to get a time lapse, Lapa to get the colorful stairs, Santa Theresa for the architecture.
I’m very thankful to Zezinho for making a number of connections with community leaders and interesting people in the Rocinha community we are going to interview later in the week. This footage will be used to make a teaser which I’m excited to announce will be used in our own fundraising efforts to return to Rocinha to continue to tell the untold story of this favela. I will have more info on this soon!
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