Favela Rising

Showing at Grand Illusion, Fri., July 14–Thurs., July 20. Not rated. 80 minutes.

Working with fancy post-prod digitals courtesy of HBO, filmmakers Jeff Zimbalist and Matt Mochary bring the Brazilian ghetto experience to Middle America, complete with harsh-contrast City of God cinematography, bloody violence, and suspiciously manipulative editing. "Direct cinema" this ain't, but the heart, as always, is where it should be, and Favela Rising has an authentically inspirational tale to tell. Something, it seems, had to emerge from the '90s drug hell of the Rio favelas as a counterforce, and it was AfroReggae, a communal group for ethnic empowerment begun with no funds as a music newspaper. Over the next 10 years or so, AfroReggae became a top-selling music ensemble (eventually signing with Universal Records), a community center for proactive social and cultural workshops, a legal clinic, a preschool program and food drive, computer classes, etc. It's such an unambiguous grassroots success story that Zimbalist and Mochary's movie eventually resorts to drama by chronicling a founder's unrelated diving accident and recovery from quadriplegia. All in all, the movement turned out to be a godsend for Rio natives, but the film is merely a pep rally.

 
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