How do you stop violence? How do you stop violence? That's the question that rang through Anderson Sa's head in 1993, after police massacred 21 people in his neighborhood, one of the most dangerous favelas (Portugese for slum squatter settlement) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in retaliation for the gunning down of four policemen by a local druglord. One of the 21 victims was Sa's brother, who was killed in a bar when police blew it up with a grenade. Sa notes in a voiceover: "It is as if the spinal cord of the favelas has always been broken."
Violence had always been a part of Sa's life - he witnessed a man beaten and shot to death at the age of 10, and by his early teens was working in the drug trade. The Massacre changed everything for him. "I started thinking to myself, how do we stop the violence?" Sa says. He met with Jose Junior, a favela activist known for working with and empowering the most troubled youth, and together, the two founded Afroreggae Noticias (Afroreggae News) to represent the voice of the Afro-Brazilian population. The newspaper was targeted primarily at young people interested in music, specifically reggae, soul and hip-hop. Soon, they opened a cultural community center in the favela Vigario Geral, one of the most violent favelas in Rio. Sa and Junior's vision was to rebuild the community from a grassroots level, by empowering the people and giving young people something to turn to and hold onto besides the drug culture. They sought to give the people of the favelas a reason to rise and unite.
In their film Favela Rising, filmmakers Jeff Zimbalist and Matt Mochary sought to convey a different image of the favelas than what is normally portrayed by the media. Cinematical recently sat down with director Matt Mochary for a phone interview about the film, and how working on it changed his life. This is Part Two of a two-part interview; Part One, an interview with Matt's directing partner, Jeff Zimbalist, is here.
Cinematical: Matt, can you tell me a little about how you and Jeff came to work together on Favela Rising?
Matt: I’m an entrepreneur turned philanthropist. I wanted a more honest way to give back, communicate ideas, and I thought that filmmaking was an excellent way to reach as many people as possible. I enrolled in filmmaking school, and Jeff was one of my teachers – by far the best teacher I had – and the two of us struck up a friendship outside of class and found we had a lot in common, especially about poor communities and the way the communities and the people living in them are commonly portrayed. We had been talking about ways to communicate those stories through film. A while later, I was in Brazil for this conference bringing philanthropists and activists together, and I met Anderson Sa and Jose Junior and heard about what they were doing with Afroreggae. I called Jeff and said, “Look, you have to come down to Brazil, here’s the situation.”
Cinematical: What spiritual growth did you have, working on this film?
Matt: My intention going into this was to give back to the community. Filmmaking became a philanthropic effort. But living with Anderson and Junior, it hit me square in the face that it’s all well and good to spread awareness, but you also have to do work on the ground, and that’s what Anderson and Junior do every day. So it was time to walk the walk.
I was in Miami last year, and I decided the time was now. The model of Afroreggae is to teach practical skills to people in situations where there aren’t other alternatives. To give people alternatives to working in the drug trade. With Afroreggae they start with the cultural stuff, the music, but they’re expanding to do the practical stuff too.
So in one of the worst neighborhoods in Miami, I went to a high school and offered to teach an after school class on filmmaking. I taught 6 kids, but I wondered, are we making a difference? Anderson and Junior work with thousands. Then two of the kids from our workshop got editing jobs after taking the class. I formed a foundation, gave it a name - The Mochary Foundation . The superintendent’s office in Miami-Dade called and wants them to replicate the program on larger scale – run a 400 student academy, school of the arts-type program. I’m on the process of working with the school district to make it happen.
Cinematical: What’s up next for the film?
Matt: There will be a theatrical release later in 2006. More importantly, we want to put the film in favelas throughout the US and the world. Ford Foundation is helping with that, we’re working on that.
We showed the film in Watts, South Central and East LA - magic occurred, and it blew us away. Of the hundred or so times we’ve shown the film when I’ve been in attendance, it was by far the most personal connection that any audience had ever had with this film. We’d been told not to expect much, that people in that community wouldn’t be interested in seeing a subtitled documentary, but they connected.
Raoul Diaz from Homeboy Industries told us to bring the film to LA and he’d get kids there, gang members who need to see this. After the screening they were in a van – I was sitting in between two kids from rival gangs, who had agreed to a truce for the night to see the film. The film caused them to hold a truce, so they could sit within a few feet of each other, and maybe talk and realize they’re more alike than different.
In South Central David LaChapelle set it up and a lot of the kids from Rize – Miss Prissy, Dragon, Lil C, all came to see it and responded very well to it. They connected with the film because they are living this film This film talks to that reality and shows people living those realities they‘re not alone, and they can do something to make it better. People – these kids - are talking together about making it happen there. Then the kids were showing me how to crump (laughs) I said to Miss Prissy, “I wanna learn to crump.” She laughed and said, sure, okay, then we cranked the music up and were crumping --until security came and shut us down. But that was fun.
Cinematical: Is there more filmmaking in the future for the two of you?
Matt: This is our first film, and what an incredible experience – we realize how powerful film is as a storytelling vehicle. Right now, though, we’re focusing all our energy on Favela. This film's real home is in the favelas of the world. It will show in art house theaters, sure, but we’re going to start showing this film in favelas in the United States. We’re paying for it ourselves, we’re going to make it happen. We made this film to share an important story with the people who need to hear it - maybe those whose lives will be helped by hearing it.