Above and below:
Peasants and miners in Oruro and northern Potosi, Bolivia
Can a music movement save a country from poverty, governmental corruption, violence and class injustice? Perhaps. This documentary describes a surprising process that's occurring in the heart of Brazil that appears to be doing just that. That, and raising hopes that the slum children of Rio de Janeiro will break away from the pathways of crime in the drug trade and onto a cheerier and more creative future.
That new option for young people is the work of Anderson Sa and Jose Junior who tell how they formed their AfroReggae movement in Vigario Geral, one of Brazil's most crime addicted favelas (slums) and how the creation of a positive behavioral alternative that provides dance training and other forms of expression can have a turnaround societal impact. The end of that story is yet to be told, but one can see that there's never been more hope.
Matt Mochary and Jeff Zimbalist's documentary conveys something positive in the basic tendencies of human need, and points to an idea that might well be applied to many a third world city where corruption and misuse of power dominate the cultural and political horizon. Their images of rampant police executions of innocent people as a means of exacting revenge on the guilty registers with shocking coldness. On the other end of the scale are the scenes of the children joyously practicing their dance, rehearsing their tin can percussion routines, and performing their street theatre. It even suggests commercial opportunity.
But, as a documentary, it's more a matter of fine intentions than effective technique. Once the main thesis is established and has its effect, repetition and jumping around from one participant to another diffuses the message rather than shape it. The performance clips are brief and say nothing about the life and experience of the performers. One or two personal stories and, maybe, footage of a full performance piece might have gone a long way toward forming a better connection to the viewer. And, what's sorely missing is an understanding of how the group is changing things in Rio beyond the immediate fortunes of this group of talent.
Mochary and Zimbalist indeed had a lot of footage to work with, much of it apparently archival, but how about an extended demo of the music the Reggae group is producing? Better storytelling would have justified its length and a wider approach might have included a political expert or sociologist's attempt to answer the question the film raises: can mere music and artistic expression really transform a culture on any kind of substantive or permanent basis?
We've seen it all too often. What could have been a powerful short doc is stretched into a theatre-length yawner. Still, the images and the ideas shown here are so worth remembering.