October 15, 2018

Shedding Light on a Dark ‘Rising’

The film “City of God” shed light on a long-neglected subject, the Third World conditions and inescapable warfare existing in Rio de Janeiro’s slums. Now comes “Favela Rising,” a documentary that not only limns the tragedy of the favelas, the Brazilian ghettoes, but also tells the inspirational tale of Anderson Sá, a black Messiah figure who founds a reggae music club that offers a nonviolent alternative to their rampant drug and gang activity.

Winner of the International Documentary Association’s Best Feature Film for 2005, “Favela Rising” comes to Los Angeles on Friday, Aug. 4, at the Regent Showcase Theater.

Co-director and producer Matt Mochary says he “never thought of himself as a storyteller.”

He has gone through a number of mini careers, including Outward Bound mountaineering instructor, venture capitalist, technology entrepreneur and surfer, yet has always maintained an altruistic side and still runs his family’s nonprofit, the Mochary Foundation, which has brought enrichment programs to underprivileged youth in Miami and New York.

Shortly after he completed a five-week film class at the New York Film Academy, Mochary traveled to Brazil on a Hewlett Foundation grant. There, he visited the favelas and discovered the charismatic Sá, who with his eyeglasses, soft beard, tie-dye shirt and skullcap looks like a cross between Malcolm X and a Rastafarian shaman.

Mochary, whose great aunt lives at Beth Emek, a kibbutz in northern Israel, was then selected to participate in a two-week immersive master class in filmmaking run by The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership, which is now in its eighth year. In Israel he not only rediscovered his Jewish roots, but also was able to cull through 200 hours of footage shot by him and co-director Jeff Zimbalist and sketch out the narrative arc for his movie, the transformative story of Anderson Sá.

While the ramshackle shanties stacked on top of one another in the Rio hillside may seem familiar to filmgoers who have seen “City of God,” “Favela Rising” explores the myths of the sea, its paradoxical healing and destructive qualities.

Despite some harrowing footage, the documentary, which is being released by ThinkFilm, has the ethereal dream-like quality of a Shakespearean romance. There are many shots from up high, as if from the heavens. Throughout the film we see a lone kite, flying above the slums, a peaceful link in the airspace above rival favelas, whose cartels ordinarily do not allow any kind of trespass. The kite is flown by a little boy, which reminds us that, from 1987 to 2001, almost no media attention was focused on the murder of 3,937 minors in Rio de Janeiro, roughly eight times the total of minors killed during those same years in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, a region whose suffering has not gone unnoticed.

“Favela Rising” opens Aug. 4 at the Regent Showcase Theater, 614 N. La Brea Ave., (323) 934-2944.