Welcome To Rio: Ten minutes to film the vital shots

Tuesday 27 May 2014, 06:30

Edward Watts Edward Watts Director

When I announced I was off to Rio de Janeiro to film Welcome To Rio for several months, the reaction of my friends and family was a universal cry: “You lucky b------!”

Yet after raving about beaches, caipirinhas, mini-bikinis, Carnival and the Christ, all fell into a foreboding whisper.

“But look out for the favelas. They’re crazily violent.”

Favelas are the flipside of the Rio legend, the city’s infamous slums whose residents have forever been characterised by the 2002 feature film, City Of God, as a pack of smoked-out teenagers pointing their guns in our faces.

That's why the favelas were exactly where I was going. Because the Welcome To... approach is to venture into rough, crooked places to discover what lies beyond clichéd stories.

  Welcome To Rio Favelas are the epicentre of Rio's street culture and dancer Breguete lives in Complexo do Lins

From the moment I set foot in the favelas, I fell in love with them.

I’ve rarely been anywhere in the world that’s so instantly welcoming.

Kids would come dancing after me asking cheerily whether I’d been born in the snow – was that why my skin was so white and I was sweating so much?

The only argument I ever had in a favela was with Rocky – the hero of episode one – over who was going to pay for two enormous roast chickens he insisted on feeding us an hour after we’d had breakfast.

They were elevenses, favela-style, typical of the generosity you find there.

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King of the stairs: Rocky brings deliveries up the steep favela steps

Of course, the warnings aren’t based on fairy tales.

Many favelas are under the control of drug traffickers, who always kept their distance from us, muttering jokes no doubt at our expense.

Our problem was that we had to find a way to film them - because you could only appreciate the courage of our characters once you saw that they maintain their good humour in a landscape of street stalls selling crack 24 hours a day.

After six months, we still hadn’t got permission from the drug traffickers to film.

For our last attempt, I picked a favela where the guns were plentiful but where we’d already passed days waiting for the boss to give the OK.

That day, our luck was in: he was throwing a barbecue and, lulled by sun and beer, in genial humour.

“You’ve got 10 minutes,” he said. “But if you film anyone’s faces, you’re in trouble.”

I’ll never forget the tension of those 10 minutes.

Just 10 minutes to get the vital shots of the series in the centre of a circle of curious teenage gunmen.

Ten minutes and 24 seconds later, we turned off our cameras. I was a wreck.

We went to thank the boss. He fixed me with a piercing stare.

This was it, I thought. He’d changed his mind, he wanted us to destroy the footage. Worse yet, he wanted to destroy us.

Sweating, I bowed my head before his gaze.

“You look hot,” he said. “Bring this guy a beer.”

That’s the spirit of the favelas, summed up in one of their famous sayings: Estamos Juntos. We’re in it, together.

Edward Watts is the director of Welcome To Rio.

Welcome To Rio is on Tuesday, 27 May on BBC Two and BBC Two HD. For further programme times please see the episode guide.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Finally a documentary that shows a Favela from ordinary residents' perspective. Maybe once the World Cup is over you might consider returning to show us What will have happened to the residents of Contagalo when the UPP leave after the World Cup?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Thank you for such wonderful work. Is there any way I could be put in touch with Acme? I would love to find out if he would be interested in painting some smaller works on canvas or paper to sell.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    I thought your documentary was an eye-opener. They are extra ordinary people who live in
    extra ordinary circumstances, but get on with it whatever the hardships.
    Can't wait for the follow up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Very beautiful and sensitive approach of this documentary. BBC has shown the true face of Brazil without clichés. I loved how the soundtracks were well placed. Also, I felt proud to see people like Rocky (one of the key characters) that work so hard and honestly to feed his family. Congratulation to everyone that take part on this work. I can't wait the next one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Jeremy P. Stockton

    Not in 20 years have I seen such a well made documerntary. The conception, content and delivery was brilliant, reminded me a bit of Wolrd in Action but more slick. The young Director should feel proud, the lisence fee makes sense and the awards should surely follow. There is a programme occasionally about the 20 greatest documentaries, (7 up, boy whose skin fell off etc), I think this has just joined it. Wasn't even going to watch, but boy am I glad i did. Even with real back pain, I climbed the stairs to write this, SUPERB!!!!!!!! Ps If you ever need a camera man just shout.HaHa


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