‘City of God’ is a visceral film, shot in the slums of Brazil with inexperienced actors many of whom were actual residents of the violence-ridden Cidade de Deus favela. The one scene that remains stuck in my head from this film is when a little boy, no older than 4 years old is shot in the foot by a teenage gangster, Lil Ze. As Lil Ze presents the boy with the choice of being shot in the foot or hand, the camera slowly pans up from the ground, pauses briefly at the child’s quivering, slightly swollen stomach, and then comes to rest on his terrified face, his cheeks smudged with the spoils of his afternoon heist.
Felipe Paulino played the role of that little boy, and once the film was over, it's one time 4,500$ payment spent, Paulino’s life went back to being like that of thousands of other children in the favelas of Brazil. Trapped in a cycle of poverty, gang violence, and drugs with very few opportunities for a way out.
In 2012, when directors Cavi Borges and Luciano Vidigal set out to film ‘City of God: 10 Years Later’, they brought together many members of the film’s cast. Felipe Paulino was found working as an apprentice bellboy at a fancy hotel in the city, the same hotel where his co-star Seu Jorge would stay when attending award ceremonies or performing.
When I first watched ‘The City of God’, I fell in love with how well made the film was, on further research I found out about its indigenous cast which I thought was pretty cool because it meant that all these children who had grown up in that violence would have opportunities to get out of it. However, after watching ‘10 Years Later, I was left feeling incredibly hollow and dejected.
It made me reflect on all the other documentaries and films shot in conflict zones, refugee camps, etc., which tell the stories of the people there. How often do the ‘subjects’ of these films which go on to get Oscar nominations actually benefit from sharing their stories? What impact do these films and documentaries have in changing these people's lives, or initiating state/international community action?
They may change the lives of 1-2 people, but what about thousands of other people who have the same stories, but no hopes of ever being able to see them change for the better.
If it is the scene of Felipe getting shot in the foot that remains with me after watching ‘City of God’, what I can never forget from ‘10 Years Later’ is when Alexandre Rodrigues (Buscape), shares how after he came back from all the luxury car rides and red carpets of Cannes, he was lying in bed in the room he shared with his mother and sister while it rained outside. As the rain dripped through a crack in the ceiling and onto his face, he recalled everything he had experienced in Cannes and then thought, “These people don’t even know where I live. This is it! Look at my house, look at how I live.” Then he started to cry.
I think both ‘City of God’ and ‘City of God: Ten Years Later’ are important films to watch and read up on to consider if films and documentaries made by outsiders on conflict zones have any positive impact on the lives of people within them, especially young children.