A brave favela portrait debut

Following two successful US premieres and winning the Artivist Award in LA in the category of Best Film on Human Rights, the first documentary of director Mario Patrocinio about favela life goes on general release in his native Portugal from January.

Setting your debut documentary in a place of extreme danger ruled by the biggest criminal faction in Brazil may sound like a quixotic project but Complexo do Alemão – Parallel Universe approaches the theme with respect and delivers a unique inside look at this parallel reality inside Rio de Janeiro.

Portuguese director Mario Patrocionio explores the reality of the group of twelve favelas in northern Rio known as Complexo do Alemão (German Compound), which bears the dimensions of a small city and around 300,000 inhabitants. The Complexo was featured on the news this December due to a series of operations led by the Special Ops Squad (BOPE) and the Brazlian Army intended to set a stronger police presence in the favela and destabilise the drug dealers’ influence in the region.

The images seen on TV – the battle tank going up the hills of the slum and burning cars – are only a few frames in the life of the favela. What is usually left unsaid by traditional media is that less than one percent of the people living there are somehow involved with the traffic of drugs and other illegal activities. Mario wisely leaves it to the inhabitants of Complexo to answer the question: what is it like to live in the biggest slum of Latin America?

Gathering praise in premieres on the festival circuit, Complexo shows a Brazil unknown to most Brazilians and the international audience alike. The craft of documentary is choosing its characters and letting them tell the story, and Mario understands that and gives a voice to people that are not usually seen on screen, contrasting with its fictional siblings (of the films Elite Squad 1 and 2). Complexo do Alemão – Parallel Universe’s aim is not a polical insight, but rather a personal portrait of the lives caught in the thick of this byzantine urban puzzle.

By Fidel Madeira

An intereview with director Mario Patrocinio about his film, Complexo do Alemão – Parallel Universe, was carried out by Graham Douglas and published by The Prisma in December 2010, and you can read the interview in full on their website here.

Photography: Mario Patrocinio


Leave a Reply