Shooting the Morro : favela documentaries and the politics of meaning
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To many in the global North, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro are the most visible face of violence and poverty in Brazil. While the favela film genre (and its subset, the favela documentary) has received significant study, there is a gap in understanding how these filmic texts are created as a result of individual production processes. How do decisions made during the course of production translate into imaginaries, representations, and on-screen content? This research locates multiple forms of non- fiction video within the wider context of mediated representations of poverty and violence in favelas, identifying the tools, mechanisms, and specific tactics employed by both favela stakeholders and production personnel in the co-production of these often heavily-mediated images. Utilizing key informant interviews with Rio-based documentary production personnel actively shooting in favelas, this research highlights specific production processes to understand how implicit incentive structures embodied in production shape and influence representations of the favela space. These findings make the case for understanding non-fiction favela films as the product of a highly structured and nuanced, if asymmetrical, co-production between filmmaker and subjects, rather than a simple linear imposition of meaning from above. These results suggest that the combination of individual production strategies with ongoing changes within the city related to “pacification” serves to simultaneously undermine and re-inscribe traditional imaginaries and mediatic geographies of the favela space.