City of God: Ten Years On

A New Documentary Tracks Down the Stars of the Unflinching Brazilian Thriller

With each World Cup headline, Brazil grows more familiar. These days we can all pronounce Manaus. Yet even a decade ago, cultural aspects of the country were shrouded in mystery. In 2002, one event transformed that perception forever—and it had nothing to do with football. It was the release of Fernando Meirelles’ visceral City of God, a kaleidoscopic and at times heartbreaking depiction of two decades in the life of Rio de Janeiro’s toughest, most drug-ridden favela.

City of God earned four Oscar nominations with Meirelles auditioning hundreds of kids from the poorest parts of the city, very few with acting experience, to create the gangs whose rivalry drives the story. The film’s success transformed Brazilian cinema, and for its key performers triggered a breakout journey to the Croisette at Cannes. It also established Meirelles as the most influential figure in Brazilian cinema. He graduated to Hollywood with The Constant Gardener, Blindness and more recently 360, and his production company 02 Filmes subsequently became a powerhouse of the country's booming film, advertising and television industries.

With City of God - Ten Years On, documentary-filmmakers Cavi Borges and Luciano Vidigal caught up with the young men and women who brought the Brazilian ghetto so vividly to life for millions around the world. Seu Jorge and Alice Braga went on to high-profile movies including The Life Aquatic and I Am Legend respectively.

The cards did not fall so kindly for others. In one shocking scene in City of God a child of six was deliberately shot in the foot. We find the boy who played him working as a bellhop at a hotel in Ipanema. His dad, he recounts, spent the few reais he was paid for the role. Poignantly, the hotel in question is where Seu Jorge likes to stay when he’s in town for a premiere. But when the two alumni meet, the big star greets his old friend with a warmth and humanity that recall much of what made City of God such a timeless and universal story.

Tom Horan writes for the Guardian and the Observer.

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  • ON REPLAY
    ON REPLAY

    Pearls Negras: The Girls from Vidigal

    Introducing the All-Female Favela Crew Rhyming Their Own Vision of Rio de Janeiro

    Pearls Negras are the teenage Brazilians bringing baile-funk back. The trio hail from the winding streets of Vidigal, a hillside favela overlooking Rio de Janeiro’s coveted Copacabana and Ipanema locales from its vantage point high up the Morro Dois Irmãos. Directed by the 32-year-old carioca (Rio local) director Kayhan Ozmen, the braggadocio-filled film spotlights Mariana Alves, Alice Coelho and Jennifer Loiola’s brand of hip-hop and raw Latin R&B, first dropped earlier this year on their Biggie Apple Mixtape. “They represent the new Brazilian youth who are born in slums, but now have access to the world via internet and social media,” says Ozmen of the 16- and 17-year-old stars. “This reflects on how they see the world: more broadly and beyond the slums. Vidigal is a community of talented artists and musicians and they take in everything the community has to offer them creatively.” The trio’s second mixtape is out next month with European and US tours later in the year. In the meantime, NOWNESS spoke to Mariana, Alice and Jennifer about their rapid rise, musical inspirations, and, of course, the World Cup.

    Who are your musical heroines or heroes?
    Alice Coelho:
    Nicky Minaj, because of her awesome attitude and confidence. And I really like Flora Matos and Karol Conka because I see them fighting for their place in the hip-hop world—in Brazil is very difficult as a female to take part. There is a lot of prejudice toward us, but they are breaking through that and we are trying to do the same.

    Where did you learn your lyrical flow?
    Mariana Alves:
    The three of us started taking acting classes at [Vidigal theater company] Nós do Morro around 2005, but everything really started when they set up a rapping workshop with [local musician and teacher] Jeckie Brown.

    What is the future of Rio, after the World Cup?
    MA:
    The 'Cup is very important but we are also fighting for improvements in our country. If we can have a World Cup, we can also have schools, hospitals and a better living wage.

    (Read More)
  • MOST SHARED IN CULTURE
    MOST SHARED IN CULTURE

    Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins: His Heavy Heart

    The Cult Comic Book Outsider Blurs the Line Between Fiction and Reality in His Latest Work with the British Director

    A semi-fictional local clown and a tattooed and buxom burlesque dancer vie for attention with their creators Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins in this short captured on the set of their forthcoming short film, His Heavy Heart, the fifth part of the Show Pieces series made with photographer and director. The thick-bearded, permanently smoking mystic Moore is one of the most prolific generators of fiction alive. His roster of graphic novels turned Hollywood movies—Watchmen, From Hell, V For Vendetta—reads like a role call of wildly popular yet intelligently designed comic fantasies. He started his current novel-in-progress Jerusalem (rumoured to be around 600,000 words long) after losing faith in the world of blockbuster movies. “Most films today recycle ideas from 30, 40, 50 years ago,” he says. “The current superhero fad is probably a good example, and also things like Pirates of the Caribbean, which is based upon a theme park ride. You can see pop culture just devouring itself.” Instead, Moore and Jenkins—who are in the planning stages of a TV show and feature film—favour the local in place of the lure of distant dollars. Showcased in this film from Emile Rafael, the narratives found in the Lex Projects-produced Show Pieces grew out of Moore’s experiences in his hometown, the Midlands town of Northampton in England. A strange thing happened after most of the series was shot last year—sightings of an anonymous costumed joker the “Northampton Clown” went viral 'creepypasta'-style, freaking out coulrophobics worldwide. “Mitch started getting emails saying, ‘This is you and Alan isn’t it,’” Moore recalls. “No it wasn’t, yet it was a perfect expression of something that we had written—this story with a clown who only exists in dreams, breaking through and manifesting in the streets, which is kind of what happened.” Below, Mitch Jenkins speaks to NOWNESS about the creative collaboration.

    How did the Jimmy’s End project come to fruition?
    Mitch Jenkins:
    After Alan had suggested writing the screenplay, he turned my characters into Bobbles the Clown, James and Mr Metterton, thus creating "Jimmy’s End" and the wonderful array of strange but beautiful inhabitants of the Workings Men’s Club in Northampton. We have spent the last three years creating the world of The Show.



    Can you tell us about the creative process?
    
MJ:
    It really is a true collaboration, every detail is discussed, Alan then writes the words and creates the world. It's my job to turn what's written on the page into film. Throughout the process we stop and take stock of each new element that is added, discussing it’s merit, making minor adjustments until what we see and hear is what we both want.

    What’s next?
    MJ:
    Alan just finished writing the feature film, The Show and we are also pre-planning the TV series. Add to this, the launch of our R&D project Electricomics two weeks ago.

    The Show Pieces home media box set will include a DVD of all films from the project and a separate book of storyboard illustrations by Kristian Hammerstad that sit alongside the original screenplay and the soundtrack to the films. Pre order here.

    (Read More)

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