We could say that Marcel Camus' 1959 award-winning Black Orpheus introduced the rest of the world to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil; although it's probably better known for the Antônio Carlos Jobim-composed bossa nova-infused soundtrack.
But I'd probably wager that most audiences outside of Brazil today will likely look to Fernando Meirelles' critically-lauded and blistering 2002 smash City Of God as their first intro to life in the favelas - the bairros africanos (African neighborhoods), where former slaves with no land ownership and no options for work, lived.
Since then, it seems like a few similar films have traveled (or maybe we - here in the USA - were suddenly more aware of them), and some maybe hoping to cash in on the success of Meirelles' film. Call it favela-fever. There's something exploitative about that I think; they're almost like what so-called hood films (here in the USA) once were in the early to mid-90s, and maybe we're seeing a similar progression.
But there's obviously a fascination.
Here's a film that actually made its debut at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival that will be making its way to the States - specifically NYC - next month, for MoMA's Premiere Brazil! event (which introduces Stateside audiences to fresh, new Brazilian cinema and voices).
Titled 5 X Favela, the feature is a collection of five fiction shorts, each telling a different story about favela-dwelling, and each directed by a different filmmaker.
Here are descriptions of the 5:
SOURCE OF INCOME Directors: Manaíra Carneiro and Wagner Novais A young man fulfils his dream to go to Law University, but is faced with difficulties paying up his expenses with books and transport. He feels tempted to sell drugs to his friends at university, thus raising the money to fund his studies.
RICE AND BEANS Director: Rodrigo Felha and Cacau Amaral Wesley, a young boy, listens to a confession by his father: he is tired of the household menu, always consisting of a plate filled with rice and stewed beans. The boy, joined by his friend Orelha, decides to find some money to buy a chicken.
CONCERT FOR VIOLIN Director: Luciano Vidigal The children Márcia, Jota and Ademir vow to remain friends for ever. Later, in their adulthood, Jota is involved in drug trafficking while Ademir has joined the police force. If the two are brought against each other, Márcia may be prevented from fulfilling her dream to play the violin.
LET IT FLY Director: Cadu Barcelos Flávio lets his friend’s kite fall across the other quarter of the favela, which is run by a rival gang. Even though he is aware of the prohibition, Flávio decides to collect the kite.
LET THERE BE LIGHT Director: Luciana Bezerra On Christmas Eve, the shanty town hill has been out of power for three days. The engineers who have been sent over by the power utility company do not manage to fix the problem. The residents kidnap one of the engineers, taking him as a hostage until the light supply is restored.
The trailer, embedded below, promises a somewhat more vibrant look at the lives of men and women living in these so-called shanty towns in Brazil - vibrant compared to the usually gritty, bleak, dark and deadly images past movies have given us.
But I'm definitely keen on seeing this, and will make an effort to check it out when it screens at MoMA's annual Premiere Brazil! series, which begins July 12.
I couldn't immediately find a trailer with English subtitles, but you should be able to get a feel for the film from the images, and music: