Movie Review: Favela Rising

By Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D
Movie Magazine International
"Favela Rising," by American filmmakers Jeff Zimbalist and Matt Mochary, takes us inside the notoriously violent Vigario Geral district, one of the many favelas or hillside squatter slums on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. It’s a place where men and boys openly polish their guns, and girls are attracted to the men with guns, because it represents protection. The violence and trauma are unfathomable. It is noted that between 1987 and 2001 467 minors were killed in Israel and Palestine territories combined. In one city in Brazil, according to the film, 3,937 youths were killed in the same time period.

Tribeca and IDA award-winning "Favela Rising" focuses on former drug dealer Anderson Sa, a handsome young man with pensive eyes. He recounts the tragic incidences in his favela. After an infamous drug-lord killed four policemen, the corrupt and repressive military police, launched a reprisal attack, known to the community as "The Massacre," slaughtering 21 innocent civilians. Sa’s brother was among the slain.

But, sounding like a prophet on the level of Buddha or Jesus Christ, the well-spoken and bespectacled Sa decided that instead of seeking revenge, there must be a better way to thwart the cycle of violence. His solution: founding Grupo Cultural AfroReggae, a drum, rap, funk, and dance troupe as a youth social movement. The musical group becomes transformative for the favela residents, helping to save the young citizens from a grim fate of early death. Sa and his followers use music and dance to unite against the injustice, crime and violence the youths encounter on a regular basis. Their cultural workshops imbue these young people with enthusiasm and self-confidence as alternatives to joining crime-ridden world.

There are plenty of set-ups and payoffs woven throughout this well-paced doc. The incredible twists and turns are foreshadowed when the films open and Sa talks about feeling like his favela is "paralyzed."

The filmmakers utilize vibrant digital camerawork, poetic shots, and slow motion to tell this deeply moving story and sacred journey. Sa figured out that exposure and involvement with music and dance would lift the community, and he pursued the dream with dogged tenacity, not letting go, even when it seemed impossible. With his friend, DJ Jose Junior, their hip-hop, reggae and African-Brazilian sound played to packed local audiences, eventually traveled to neighboring favelas, and even helping to calm the violence between favelas.

The story is layered and nuanced, with interesting and vivid characters. This is an inspiring story that all kids from impoverished neighborhoods in every country should see. For that matter, anyone who wants to know more about the world and about rising up out of your problems should see it. The filmmakers’ reverential regard for Anderson Sa is infectious; Sa has made an impression on me that I won't soon forget. For Movie Magazine, this is Joan Widdifield.

Air date: August 16, 2006
More Information:
Favela Rising
Jeff Zimbalist and Matt Mochary - Brazil