Rio Breaks: DVD Review (Factory 25) ~ BrooklynRocks: NYC Music Blog

Friday, October 29, 2010

Rio Breaks: DVD Review (Factory 25)

If Rio Breaks was a fictional story, it would likely be a coming of age story about self-discovery and redemption. Instead, this documentary is the bittersweet story of two young boys from one the favelas (ghettos) of Rio who, despite big dreams, are unable to rise above their circumstances and the hand that fate dealt them.

Rio Breaks tells the story of two friends, 13-year-old Fabio and 12-year-old Naamã who live in Rio de Janeiro’s Favela do Pavão but seem to spend every waking hour surfing at Arpoador Beach. These just aren't surf-crazed teenagers but, as the pair lives in an area of town controlled by one of the city’s most dangerous drug gangs, they dream of becoming a professional surfers and escaping the world of the gangs. The water and the beaches also hold the attraction in that this is where the people from the Hills (the poor) and the Concrete (the rich) come together as equals.

Both boys have suffered the loss of immediate family members due to the drug trade and it is heartbreaking to hear Naamã talk about the death of his brother at the hands of the police and the general violence all around them in the same tone of voice that an American teenager may use to discuss lunch plans. It is obvious that this violence is simply accepted as a fact of life. Fabio, on the other hand, is taking the death of his father (who was killed by his own gang for wanting out) hard and he is in the midst of a downward spiral.

The film follows the boys over a number of months and lets them narrate the story of their inward and outward struggles. Fabio is in the midst of a downward spiral as his mother has abandoned him so he is being raised by illiterate grandparents. He cannot read or write, he has dropped out of school and he frequently does not have enough to eat. Given his increasing level of anger and acting out, Naamã worries that Fabio will join the local drug gang.

The positive influence in the Hills is the Favela Surf Club, who provide free surf lessons and loaner boards to residents of the Hills. Fabio and Naamã dream of winning a surf contest and the resultant sponsorships (as some past members of the Favela Surf Club have) to escape their immediate surroundings. One of the sub-plots of the film is the slow build-up to one of these surf contests.

Unfortunately, real life isn't a John Hughes film and the surf contest passes quickly with no redemption for either of the film's two "heroes". Fabio makes a significantly late start (apparently on purpose) in his competitive heat and doesn't place and the film narrator mentions that Naamã dropped out of a later competition and has returned to bodyboarding. The film ends with the narrator telling the listener that Fabio has stopped surfing and has been seen on the street with a strange group of youth (the implication is that he has joined the Red Command drug gang).

There is a positive afterstory though -- Earlier this year, Luciano Huck, host of one of Brazil's most popular TV shows, watched the film, fell in love with it and decided to put all of his clout, resources and plain hard production cash (his programme has institutional status and draws about 12 million viewers every week) to help the film's characters. In the program, which aired on March 6, Luciano meets Naama, who in the film says that his dream is to go surfing in Hawaii. Luciano surprises Naama when he stops by his house in the favela, TV cameras in tow. At the end of the visit, he says he'll not only take Naama to Hawaii, but also introduce him to Kelly Slater, the world's best surfer. In exchange, Naama has to promise he'll never join the drug gang, keep going to school and agree to learn English. (here is a link to the videos from the show)

Naama's meeting with Slater is likely to go down as one of the most tear-inducing moments on television. It could have looked exploitative but it didn't. Naama is sincere and fearless - a fearlessness hewn from the hardship of real life, from growing up without a fridge (as he says in the show) to seeing his brother killed by the police. So when he breaks down upon meeting Slater, you know that moment matters. You know it's real. On their return, Luciano buys the family an apartment in Copacabana, moving Naama and his family out of the favela.

Rio Breaks