This is a documentary that demands for an immersion within someone else’s reality.
By Chloe McMahon
Implemented in 2008 by Brazilian state public security secretary José Beltrame, the Police Pacification Unit aimed to neutralise gangs and reclaim territories in Rio Di Janeiro. With government plans to increase law enforcement, residents of the favelas were promised the dream of being able to live together in peace and have access to public services. Eight years later however, the positive vision of the PPU has become an empty rhetoric of the Brazilian regime. As the 2016 Olympics draw closer and the impeachment process surrounds president Rousseff, the vibrant soul of the favela is being pushed aside.
Amidst a country engulfed by government media, there are voices; stories that have lurked in the shadows of the slums, silenced by their mass existence. So what happens when a filmmaker calls for one of these voices? Furthermore, with the rise in international collaboration another question arises; what happens when an outsider, camera in hand, enters that world?
O Outro Lado Do Cartão-Postal/The Other Side of the Postcard (2016) is an exposure of what the picturesque image of Rio struggles to hide. On April 2nd 2015 10-year-old Eduardo de Jesus was shot dead by law enforcement. Just one out of the 60,000 fatalities that happen every year in the favelas, Eduardo’s death comes sadly as normality. Directors Angelica ‘Angel’ Melo and David Morris follow his grieving mother, Terezinha as she fights against the Brazilian court, singling Eduardo out as an example of how far the PPU’s disregard for human life has gotten. Alongside this, the documentary captures the voices of drug traffickers, activists and photojournalists as they coexist in the beautiful but troubled city.
This is a documentary that demands for an immersion within someone else’s reality – their thoughts, their experiences, their existence. The treatment of such is fragile in the hands of a filmmaker. The emotional connection to a subject can be a balancing act of catharsis in the pursuit of truth, which raises a question for Morris and Melo – How do you manage your rapport with a situation so personal as Terezinha’s?
“With documentary you have to be careful because you get drained of energy”, Melo advises. “I saw Terezinha’s pain and being a Brazilian woman, I felt her pain. You need this flood of feelings and in the flood, you need to be the one that’s not sinking.” It is clear that as well as the risk of a blasé misrepresentation there is also the danger of being consumed by the gravity of film and losing direction. Like sustenance to the human body, the emotional tether of a documentary needs moderation. Morris follows in the same vein, stating; “I don’t speak Portuguese but I could see the level of pain she’s gone through. I looked at her all I kept thinking about was ‘what if that was my situation?’” Although the directors’ backgrounds are removed from each other, they share a universal poignancy in their way of production. Morris states; “Even though we made this film for not very much money, there is personal journey you take.”
“I was very nervous the first few days because I didn’t know what I was walking into,” confesses Morris. Hailing from Ireland, Morris becomes the outside lens on an urban sphere so cruelly over-shadowed by tourist culture. It is this outsider perspective that has given documentary another dimension of accessibility. Morris scrupulously explains that with the idea of fictional filmmaking there is a “tendency to overdramatise” or to “over-represent who people are”. He continues; “with that you also have the fear of, especially being a white privileged male coming into that area, you have thissubconscious tendency to stereotype, to manipulate, to not truly see things”. It seems as though with environments so conflicted as the favela, there is rose-tinted barrier for foreign fictional constructs. For Morris documentary is the route against the cloud of misrepresentation – an adherence to “what the people want to say”.
“In the favelas, people see you working with foreigners and they will come to you ‘cause they want help”, confirms Melo, Morris’ Brazilian counterpart on the film. Having experienced life in the favela first-hand, Melo functions as the interpretative lens; she is the nexus between the interior and exterior perspective of Rio. It may seem a perceptual advantage for Melo in the production of O Outro Lado Do Cartão-Postal; however, she stresses the importance of including the “out of the box” network as “outsiders see things a little bit deeper from a different perspective.” It is not a privileged or patronising perspective but an understanding of the people who “see you as a voice for them” through film. “I like to link outsiders with locals who want a solution”, continues Melo. “When there’s an intersection, you make great work. This documentary is fusion.”
On the first anniversary of Eduardo’s death, O Outro Lado Do Cartão-Postal premiered in Complexo-do-Alemão, Rio with the support of Amnesty International. In a city where “people are being suffocated”, Morris and Melo have allowed the residents to come up for air with exposure of the film. “I did not want to make a water and sugar film,” says Melo (sugar and water – “Garapa” – being a weak substitute for food). It is clear that what Morris and Melo have created is no Garapa. It is a calling for justice and awakening amongst not only the residents of the favela but the politicians behind the ‘postcard’. Melo admits; “politicians are cancer everywhere and it’s time to wake people up.” Although possessing different perspectives, the direction of O Outro Lado Do Cartão-Postal runs through the same manner of advocating the power of knowledge not only in documentary but also in everyday life. Melo asserts; “the power of anything belongs to the ones who hold knowledge. Plant a seed in your mind everyday.” In a world dependent on action, Melo’s message is; “Time can make you grow or make you shrink. It’s up to you.”