Through the screen: The city & the city
Brazil and the FIFA World Cup: what could possibly go wrong? No other nation has claimed the sport’s top prize so many times, nor is so closely associated with the concept of the ‘beautiful game’.
Yet football’s global governing body FIFA has recently expressed concern over the country’s preparations for hosting the 2014 tournament. It is true that the process has not been exactly smooth – the sports minister Orlando Silva had to resign in October of last year over allegations of corruption. Though his successor Aldo Rebelo is seen as much more reliable, the transformations taking place in the country’s cities for the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are still the source of controversy.
There have been reports of forced evictions around Rio’s legendary Maracanã stadium, which is to be the centrepiece of both events. The Huffington Post reports that nationwide, some 170,000 people are facing threats to their homes or have been moved. The official version from the National and International Olympic Committees is that all is done by agreement with residents and with proper compensation. Yet local reports speak instead of forced evictions and demolitions in the middle of the night.
This is nothing on the scale of the forced resettlement in Beijing before the 2008 Games, of course (some 1 million people), or even of prior editions of the event, such as in 1988 in Seoul. Yet the debates surrounding the legality of moving residents of Rio’s ‘Favela do Metrô’ shantytown, among other areas, are refocusing attention on the experience of living in the cities of this emerging South American power.
The film, made by Adirley Queirós, does not tell the grand story of the city’s construction by the government of Juscelino Kubitschek in 1956 – 60. Instead, it takes an oblique look at the legacy of the Campanha de Erradicação das Invasões of 1969-71, which relocated Brasília’s first favelas away from the purpose-designed plan of the city centre (see image).
The 80-minute documentary does not itself take such a rigorous approach to structure. It has three loose centres, as Queirós’ camera explores the streets of Ceilândia, the destination for the relocated favelas. One of these is Dildu, a self-styled ‘gangster’ who, fed up of his home town being ignored in local politics, is standing for the district council. Another is his brother-in-law, who makes his money from the booming real estate business in the area.
The third ‘centre’ is Nancy, a middle-aged woman who is following up her memories of the relocation. She remembers her part in the children’s choir which sang a televised jingle to promote the government plan, from which the documentary takes its name:
Você que tem um bom lugar pra morar, nos dê a mão, ajude a construir nosso lar. Para que possamos dizer juntos ‘a cidade é uma só’
(You who have a good place to live, give us a hand, help to build our home. So that we can say together, ‘the city is one only’).
Despite the cheery tone and melody of the jingle, Nancy’s memories of the events are not uniformly happy. Here, as in the Rio of today, there is some distance between the official version of a collaborative effort to ‘tidy up’ and improve the city, and the local view of a government with little respect for its most vulnerable citizens. Are Dildu and his friends and neighbours from Brasília or not?
The story of Ceilândia is full of ironies: from the government’s use of children from the favelas to promote their own eviction, to how the town that emerged from the programme cheekily appropriated its initials (CEI – Ceilândia). The biggest irony of all, perhaps, is that the Campaign of Eradication of the Invasions (as the favelas were called) entailed the separation of the utopian centre of Brasília from the dwellings of the workers who built it.
Adirley Queirós’ film uses its three protagonists to explore these ideas and subtly challenge the notion that Brasília, or any city, can be ‘one only’, completely homogenous. It’s an important thought for the Brazil of today. The country will no doubt want to present itself in 2014 and 2016 as modern, progressive and organised. A laudable aim, so long as the drive for unity and order doesn’t mask a forced fragmentation.