Autonomy in the midst of football and Olympic games


David Bert Joris Dhert unfolds how he made his latest documentary.

How did you end up deciding to make this specific documentary?

I had moved to Rio de Janeiro in 2011. For my work back then, I was involved in the lowest regions of society, the conflicts in the favelas and the drug- and crime prevention programs for kids growing up in those areas. The future for Brazil looked promising and the country was seen as one of the upcoming economic giants. Nobody doubted that opportunity would knock on many doors with the city soon to host both the World Cup and the Olympic Games. Everybody was making plans and dreaming of a better life. From the energy in the air you could already tell that the coming years were going to be phenomenal, which they definitely turned out to be. With the simple question What will the sports events in a couple of years have changed for the lives of the citizens of Rio?, I gave my curiosity a go and started looking for stories on the street. I picked out three people and started filming their walk of life over time. Not much later, euphoria made place for mass disillusion and evictions, gas masks, threatening phones and imprisonments became part of the daily lives in Rio ahead of the sports events.

What have you learned from the experience?

Not easy to pick something specific, the list of things you learn when making a film is extensive and the process itself takes some years, so it marks yourself as a person in many ways. After a period of six years in another country, you end up embracing another language for your feelings, another culture and you become another you. Gradually you get into a position where you can get an outside perspective of yourself from two different cultural perspectives. An exercise in relativity. As for the filming process, my method was based on long term observation and for months in a row during shooting I tried to enter as much time as possible in the perspective of my subjects. Their truth became my truth, which got me to closely feel what they felt, experience what they experienced, be under pressure, feel helpless and see the raw face of reality behind the glamorous sports events several times. Going down that ladder helps you see the power games behind the maquillage of politics clearly, and see the plastic that the corporations present us as if they were diamonds. In a tragicomic way, our species seems to master the art of turning simple exciting things into complex anonymous constructions we gradually lose control of and eventually become destructive to ourselves. Just like these sports tournaments with glorious ideals have become the catalysts for homelessness and misery on a large scale: in the years of the World Cup and the Olympics, 22 059 families lost their homes in the city of Rio de Janeiro alone. It has become routine to read FIFA and IOC in the same line as the words corruption and scandal. The same can be told of politics. And the more the situation will move to these extremes, the quicker it will come to an extreme and violent clash.

How can autonomy be seen in the movie?

A healthy leaf reveals the root of the tree: you cannot understand Brazil properly without understanding its indigenous question. Not to be mistaken with the country’s past: indigenous Brazil is very much present - and future - with an indigenous population that is steadily on the rise. That is the reason why I wanted a clear indigenous line for the film. And as the evolution of the events that occurred during the filming period showed, the colonial deny/divide/rule came to the surface once more. From the indigenous perspective, little does it matter if the term is colonization, post-colonization, neo-colonization, national colonization, entrepreneurial colonization, globalization, oppression: if the gunman stands in front of you, he will kill you all the same. The cry for help of the indigenous movement of Rio de Janeiro, often misunderstood by the worlds large press agencies as ’squatters’, exactly stems back to that overall pressure on the indigenous territories spread all over Brazil, marked by assassinations and a violent war for territory for the sake of goods that are principally destined for export, and thus fuelled by the large international corporations that bring our food into our supermarkets (meat, soy, sugar cane), bring the minerals to our boutiques and so on. Whereas autonomy is an optimum for all, to feel autonomous is a privilege for the minority while it remains an unreachable state of being for the rest. The question is: what does the privileged minority do with its feeling of autonomy? Look away to be able to say wir haben es nicht gewusst should not be the answer. Carefree consumption cannot be part of autonomy.

Was it difficult to find people who were willing to tell everyone their story?

In fact, it was not: when people are in trouble, they are looking for help. And there were so many stories of misery ahead of the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games in Rio. For people who lost their homes, their collaboration with filmmakers and photographers was a way to denounce the injustice they suffered or a way to look for help. For people under threat, it served as a shelter. For local society, the filmmakers and photographers that were there to look behind the glamorous curtains of the sports events were a welcome counterweight for the local good news illusion shows of TV Globo and were received with appreciation and local support. The most challenging part of assembling the participants for the overall balance of this film in specific was to find someone who would possibly have a chance to improve his or her life during the sports events, excluding politicians and business men. I was happy I eventually ran into a story like that in the shadows of the Maracanã stadium.

Has your view on football or Olympic games changed after making the documentary, and if it has, how?

We should not be too naïve to think that highly lucrative corporate events like these do not cause endurance, pain and sacrifices on the other edge of the scale. However, even after going through hard times in the years ahead of the events, once the football games were on - much more than the Olympics - they brought excitement all over town. It showed the duality of the sports events and gave insight in why an innocent and enjoyable sport had become a billion-business industry: it is so hard not to enjoy the games and the excitement they bring. So, on the same day there would be and violence in protest marches and hooking up with friends to watch the games afterwards. It had nothing to do with fair play and was like “war without the shooting”, to cite Orson Welles, but then with the shooting. It certainly gave the sports events classic baselines a new twist. For The Game, For The World. All In One RhythmTM. There Can Only Be One Winner.

What kind of a message would you like for viewers to take with them after watching the documentary?

The great thing about film and photography is that it allows for many readings. Cultural ones, collective ones, personal ones, explicit ones, intuitive ones. It is a multi-layered expression of multi-layered realities and everybody reads from his or her own perspective. What do film makers know about their audience? Rather than imposing one, I would like to know that viewers are finding messages that are intrinsically theirs.

You can keep following the actual situation in Rio de Janeiro on the page of the film:

Movie trailer: