In the poorest neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro, people are not so worried about snakes on a plane. Dying from drugs or at the hands of drug traffickers, maybe; being brutalized and massacred by police, for sure; taking a bullet while walking innocently to work, check. But thank heaven they don't have to fret about vipers in the baggage hold, or Hollywood would have come knocking with an idea to film their story long ago.
Instead, the tale of Vigario Geral -- a discarded Rio de Janeiro favela, or slum -- has been left to fledgling independent filmmakers Jeff Zimbalist and Matt Mochary, who have somehow captured both the horror and beauty of this complicated place in a sobering but ultimately uplifting documentary titled ``Favela Rising." It's a real looker of a film, overdone in places but undeniably seductive in the way it tackles one man's transformation from budding thug to revered humanitarian.
That man is Anderson Sa, and his epiphany came when his brother was gunned down in 1993 as part of an indiscriminate police rampage. As Sa tells his interviewers, he might have been expected to surrender to the pull of drug lords then, but instead he began to ask , ``How do I end the violence?" His answer came in the form of the AfroReggae movement, voiced first in an influential newspaper and then in a musical group known as Banda AfroReggae.
The fusion band aimed to be an ``instrument of change," but it's no easy task creating a whole new consciousness from lyrics and a backbeat. Sa recalls borrowing the makings of an orchestra, then embarking on a campaign to woo youngsters away from the dark side with lessons and concerts.
Apparently it worked, at least according to everyone interviewed in this film. Zimbalist and Mochary aren't much for presenting opposing points of view -- their cheerleading talking heads include journalists and drug traffickers but no government officials or cops (though the movie does make a point of defending the latter as underpaid, undertrained, and disrespected). If there are naysayers anywhere near this movement, you don't see them in the many feverish musical scenes set to pulsing popular rhythms.
What ``Favela Rising" does present, however, is a stylish, ``City of God"-like mix of startling images (see the cop beating the young man with a wooden plank) and poetic commentary (hear the activist Jose Junior say, ``We're a group of destroyed people infected by idealism") -- much of it on target and most of it compelling. There may be no more appealing notion than the one that says music alone can save the world. ``Through music, we changed our reality," says Sa. Is that any more far - fetched than ``Snakes on a Plane"?