São Paulo recently received In-Edit Brasil, a music documentary film festival that will also show in Salvador. The ones I ended up seeing were both about transgression and asserting one’s identity through music and performance, albeit in different ways.
Damas do Samba (Ladies of Samba)
This doc takes a look at the role of women in samba besides the ubiquitous dancing mulatas. With appearances by Dona Ivone Lara, Beth Carvalho, Alcione and more, we see the monumental roles of tias, pastoras and carnavalescas. The Mangueira and Portela “chefonas” show how they organize the design and creation of the schools’ floats and costumes starting in May. Because Globo owns the rights to all Carnaval footage, the documentary could only show footage of rehearsals and dancers warming up to parade, but this gave it a more intimate feel. It was interesting to see the camera focus on the intricate footwork, or girls no older than 12 assemble their costumes (and they are truly ensembles) as they get ready to perform.
The director Susanne Lira came out afterwards for a discussion. Given the fact that a samba dancer is one of the few visible roles black women have in Brazilian society, she wanted to show how these black girls and women are taking these prescribed roles and asserting an active part in samba and Carnaval, thereby taking control and reinventing what their roles in society can be. The film is slated to become a four-part series on TV for Carnaval 2015, and on May 13, the anniversary of the abolition of slavery, it will be screened for the Mangueira community with a discussion to follow.
São Paulo em Hi-Fi
Fun fact: São Paulo has the largest Pride parade in the world, which this year took place on May 4th in the city center. Little did I know this area was the heart of SP gay nightlife in its heyday, in the sixties, seventies and eighties. Journalists, drag queens, club owners, and former nightlife enthusiasts recount how queer Paulistanos found a way to express themselves under the repressive dictatorship and the cultural scene that thrived until the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. Clubs like Medieval on Rua Augusta played a major role in creating a space, as well as the first LGBT publication O Lampião da Esquina, whose public circulation seems remarkable given the time period. This documentary is considered sort of a prequel to director Lufe Steffen’s previous work A Volta da Pauliceia Desvairada (The Return of Hallucinated São Paulo), which highlights key players in the Paulista gay scene today.
In an interview, Steffen asserts that the film has received a warm, emotional response from a wide range of people: older queer people who lived during the time period, older heterosexual married women, young people of all orientations. “I hope this helps society become less hypocritical, prejudiced and repressed. Film always had the power to rail against society and it continues that way. One needs to know how to use that power.”
I’ve already seen the following films before, so I didn’t see them as part of the festival, but they’re still worth a quick mention.
20 Feet From Stardom: This film has gotten a lot of attention (as well as an Oscar for Best Documentary) and for good reason. It talks about the role of the backup singer in popular music and some of their struggles to move to the spotlight. I’ve seen this twice, and every time I hear the original recording of Merry Clayton singing on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” I literally get chills.
Narco Cultura: This documentary looks at the popularity of narcocorridos, accordion-based songs that essentially glorify drug trafficking, while also examining the effects the drug trade has in Mexico. Director Shaul Schwarz follows a Los Angeles-based musician whose band plays narcocorridos to sold out concerts all over the U.S., as well as a crime scene investigator in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, whose annual homicide rate has increased tenfold between 2007 and 2010. Watching this, I felt upset, angry and disturbed — I considered turning it off several times. However it’s a brilliant piece of work and an important one to watch.