Last week, I went to see Pixadores on the IDFA-festival (the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam). It was the world- première. The director was present. He said that he started his project in 2010 and it eventually led to this documentary. A small part of his formal script included ‘train-surfing’, but because this does nor occur in Helsinki, the place where he lives, he decided to go the Brazil. In Sao Paulo he met a group of four guys. They showed him how to train-surf.
When you train-surf, you climb out of the window of a moving metro onto the roof. When you are on the rooftop you take the pose of ‘surfing the metro’, with your nose in the wind. It is a moment you can leave all your problems behind and just enjoy the kick and the adrenalin rush.
Why did the director Amir Escandari decide to leave prosperous Finland and decided to go the favela’s of Brazil? Did he have a common friend with the four guys from the favelas of Sao Paulo? With Djan, William, Ricardo en Biscotio? The distance between their worlds seems too big. During the movie the director himself does not appear on screen. Afterwards, he said that, despite the fact that he didn’t speak a word of Portuguese, when he met the guys he decided to throw away his formal script and to make a documentary about them. But does the film surpass the director’s apparent desire for roughness and new adventure? Or is he looking for new perspective than his own western one?
I’m too shy to ask the director a question in public, but after, when people are leaving, I decided to talk to him in private. I congratulate him with his première. I ask him how the film has changed his life. He looks surprised: ‘In many, many ways. How we use public space for example, I see that totally different now.’ I tell him that the documentary has opened my eyes, that he has shown me a different world. That watching the almost impassable alleys in the favela’s, made me realise how organised our cities in Europe are.
The Pixacao exist since 22 years. The leader of the four guys, Djan is already involved with them for 13 years. They have dull jobs to earn their money to pay their alimony or to be able to buy bricks and concrete to build the walls of their own houses. One of the guys, William, is illiterate. But he does write: on the walls of the city, on the high and small condominiums. Like ‘free climbers’ they conquer the buildings, risking their lives. The director says that he did join them train surfing, but never when climbing the condominiums. ‘In 2010 three people died doing this sort of thing.’One of the guys formulated it beautifully: ‘No fear of falling, but fear of not coming back to the ones who loves you.’
With their actions they use the public space to express their discontent about the political situation in their city. Their motives are political, but is that featured enough in the film by only a few statements such as: ‘The spray can is our weapon.’? What it does show is the urge of the guys to do the graffiti, as it is the only hope in their tough existence in the favelas.
As the film continuous you get closer and closer to the personal stories of the guys. What has happened in the past with their parents? Their children also come into the picture. How the guys would like a different future for them. Their dreams of owning a house, having a job, a little bit of luck.
What is striking about the documentary Pixadores is that it is in black and white. It is a risky choice. It does makes the movie more raw, more graphical and it seems to connect to the political statement: the big contrast between poor and rich in San Paulo. Unfortunately, the aesthetic, nostalgic effect has the upper hand. Only the parts that were shot by a handi-cam by the guys themselves are in colour. But the director did also make the choice to rent an expensive helicopter to make some shots from above. You see the green jungle pass into the black and white favelas. It is a cliché and it puts the director literally at a distance – in the position of the rich outsider.
At a certain point, Djan arrives with a letter. It is an invitation for the Biennale in Berlin. The New York Times has published an article about the actions of the Pixadores. When all the official documents are arranged the guys leave for Berlin.
The part about the guys in Berlin is the most confronting. It is the turning point in the story. Until now we have seen the world of the Pixadores through the eyes of the Finnish director. This is the first moment we see the western world through the eyes of the guys. The culture-clash is huge. They are brought to a location of the Biennale in an old church. In the church there are special decor walls, on them different artists have made paintings. Like monkeys in the zoo the guys are put in the space and asked to paint on the walls too. But they stay true to themselves, telling the curator that they make their work in conflict, as a protest against the inequality in their world. They are not interested in the established world.
‘Rather hated than ignored’ one of them says. They decide to climb high up to the rooftop of the church and start writing with their spray cans on the old walls. The curator Artur Zmijewski gets really mad, and throws paint at Djan. Suddenly the paint is in bright yellow colour and it splashes of the screen. The pose of the curator throwing the paint shows the difference in urgency of the painting of the Pixadores. Where can you draw the line between an artist, an anarchist of a criminal?
The documentary is impressive because it gets very personal, you get to know the guys, and by telling their personal story it tells a bigger story about the political conflict. It is particularly impressive because the Finnish director opens your eyes not only for the unknown world of the favela’s of Sao Paulo, but also creates an opportunity to see our own western society with different eyes by showing it through the eyes of the guys from Sao Paolo. The documentary is more than a personal desire for adventure; it shows a critical view on both worlds.