LISBON – Two Portuguese brothers, Mario and Pedro Patrocinio, risked going into the most dangerous “favela” (shantytown) in Rio de Janeiro and discovered a surprising “universe” of sensitivity and strength that they portrayed in a documentary whose premiere is set for January 2010.
“People have a stereotyped image of what a ‘favela’ is – they’re afraid of anything that comes from there, so our intention was just to eliminate the clichés and let people see the truth,” moviemaker Mario Patrocinio said.
Mario and Pedro have lived in Brazil since 2003, and the “green light” for going into the Complexo do Alemao shantytown came in 2004 from a friend who suggested that they do a music video there with a local rapper.
“At the time we didn’t know anything about McPlayboy – the name of the rapper – or what the Complexo do Alemao was,” Mario recalled, admitting that he was scared with what he read in the press about the place and went into the slum for the first time “with his heart pounding.”
Complexo do Alemao’s violent, dangerous reputation began with the slaying of Brazilian journalist Tim Lopes in 2002, when he was captured and cruelly tortured in reprisal for his investigative reporting of “funk” dances.
The Patrocinio brothers, after their gig with the rapper and armed with a bit of foreigners’ courage and ingenuity, decided to return to the shantytown, this time alone.
In December 2005, they exchanged their traditional Portuguese Christmas for a journey into what they called a “parallel universe,” which showed them a world far beyond accepted notions of life in the slums.
“Once inside, we felt there were a lot of things to report, but, above all, a lot to learn,” Mario said, never tired of telling how well shantytown residents welcomed them and treated them while working on their project.
In fact, the No. 1 challenge of the project will be the premiere of the movie itself, whose title is “Complexo-Universo Paralelo” (Complexo-Parallel Universe), in the shantytown itself, to be accompanied by a photo exhibition and concert.
“We found poor people there who helped us so much and who were always ready to teach us things. Every conversation was a learning experience,” Mario said, adding that the learning was more important even than making the movie.
The documentary revolves around four central characters – a mother with eight kids, the 35-year president of a neighborhood association, the rapper McPlayboy, and the illegal drug trade itself.
The drug trade is represented, according to the directors, by the statements of different people in some way involved in trafficking.
The mother of eight, Doña Celia, as well as being a character was a source of inspiration and an incentive for the moviemakers, who shot the film without sponsors and repeatedly came up against the “impossible.”
“Doña Celia showed us day by day that it was worthwhile fighting for the things we believe in and, in that way, she became the inspiration of the film,” the Patrocinio brothers recalled.
With scenes that couldn’t be filmed until 2007 and very little help from their friends, finding places that would loan them equipment plus the impossibility of hiring Rio professionals because of their prejudice against the area, they needed that inspiration “pretty often.”
“What we thought is that if she managed to support and, above all, bring up eight children, what are we if we can’t even make a movie?” said Mario, adding that in the world of “favelas” there are also many “victors.”