Manifesto for a Cinema Quijotesco

When I started teaching movie-making to kids on the margins of society, I had dreamed of a place like the favela of Arruda: a slum in the midst...


When I started teaching movie-making to kids on the margins of society, I had dreamed of a place like the favela of Arruda: a slum in the midst of a gang war, where I could help children denounce injustice. For the previous two weeks, fifteen kids, my wife, and I had been struggling to write a script "to tell the truth about our community" as one of the young filmmakers put it. Finally, we worked out the climax: One of the main characters would be shot because he was in debt to the crackhouse. The scene was dramatic, it would make for powerful film… but it didn't feel quite right.

"All of you have told us stories of friends who've been shot," my wife said. "But none of them had a debt. None of them were in the drug trade. It was all stray bullets. So why should we tell a story where in which the victim is guilty?"


The answer revealed an important lesson about how to survive in a world of random violence. "The victims are addicts and dealers," people told themselves. "I am not. Ergo, I will not be a victim." This logic—even if they knew the first premise to be false—gave them courage to leave the house each morning. Unfortunately, the argument justified the continued power of the gangs who controlled the favela.

The young filmmakers weren't the only ones who had fallen into a trap. In my search for an exciting story about violence, I had too. The favela is full of stories, of laughter and dancing, of mothers lecturing their kids on how to lead a good life and of young men starting small businesses. Why did I gravitate towards a story about murder?

Of the millions of true stories about the favela, we only want to see one kind. Film festival and TV audiences know that images of the favela must be violent—gangs need stories of victims who deserved to be murdered. Horribly, we provide these stories for them. Though we often think of news and documentaries as virtuous things to watch, when little pieces of truth stand in for a much more complex reality, little truths often function to tell powerful lies.

Last week, here in a little Indian town way up the Amazon River: Mayra's natural talent for storytelling overflowed when the camera turned to her, describing a werewolf in search of a cave behind a waterfall and a monster without a mouth that had swallowed a candle defending the cavern. Half a dozen animal spirits popped up to help the werewolf, but so did Jesus and an Avatar, and the whole thing was wrapped in a Tukano Indian myth that Mayra’s grandmother had told her as a bedtime story.

Mayra didn't need to tell the truth. She didn't filter her story for some imagined audience in Los Angeles or Paris. Because of that, anyone who sees the film will starts to feel like they know her. Not that they know about her, but that they know her.

Don Quijote marks something wonderful in the history of literature, because the facts of his life matter not at all. As a poor minor noble who reads a lot, his story touches no one. Instead, we love Don Quijote's fantasy, the inner life that suddenly and unexpectedly spurts out into the world, making us laugh and cringe and think. I don't relate to him as an object of study, but strangely enough, as a friend.

When we think about people who really matter to us, knowing about them isn’t all that important. Coming to care for someone means learning what she wants, what he dreams, what they fear and hope for. Mayra’s wandering fantasy brings us into a relationship with her, forces us to see her as another subject, a person whose dreams and way of thinking we barely comprehend, but which we want to know better. She’s a four-year-old Indian Quijote deep in the Amazon jungle.

Read these words, then, as a polemic against cinema verité and a manifesto for a cinema quijotesco, for movies where people from the margins can put their fantasies, and not just their sad truths, onto film. Movies about violence and misery, however well-intentioned, make kids think that only those stories matter, closing down other dreams that they could have for their lives. But fantasies open up their future... and might even help the audience see a world in which they can increasingly relate to those they may have never met as friends.

Images courtesy of Allan da Silva Carvalho (4 years old), and Rita de Cácia Oenning da Silva


Articles
Creative Commons

National Tell a Joke Day dates back to 1944 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was having a meeting with Vice-President, Henry Wallace. The two men were tired and depressed due to the stress caused by leading a country through world war.

During a lull in the meeting, Wallace said, "Frank, to cheer you up I have a joke I'd like to share."

"Let's have it, Henry," Roosevelt replied while ashing his cigarette.

"Why did the chicken cross the road?" Wallace asked. "Not sure," Roosevelt replied.

"To get to the other side," Wallace responded.

Roosevelt laughed so hard that the bourbon he was drinking sprayed out of his nose and onto the floor of the oval office.

RELATED: A comedian shuts down a sexist heckler who, ironically, brought his daughters to the show

The joke was so funny, and did such a great job at lightening both their moods, Roosevelt proclaimed that every year, August 16 would be National Tell a Joke Day.

Just kidding.

Nobody knows why National Tell a Joke Day started, but in a world where the President of the United States is trying to buy Greenland, "Beverly Hills, 90210" is back on TV, and the economy is about to go off a cliff, we could all use a bit of levity.

To celebrate National Tell a Joke Day, the people on Twitter responded with hundreds of the corniest dad jokes ever told. Here are some of the best.

Culture

The Judean date palm was once common in ancient Judea. The tree itself was a source of shelter, its fruit was ubiquitous in food, and its likeness was even engraved on money. But the plant became extinct around 500 A.D., and the prevalent palm was no more. But the plant is getting a second chance at life in the new millennium after researchers were able to resurrect ancient seeds.

Two thousand-year-old seeds were discovered inside a pottery jar during an archaeological excavation of Masada, a historic mountain fortress in southern Israel. It is believed the seeds were produced between 155 B.C. and 64 A.D. Those seeds sat inside a researcher's drawer in Tel Aviv for years, not doing anything.

Elaine Solowey, the Director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura in Israel, wondered if she could revive the Judean Date Palm, so in 2005, she began to experiment. "I assumed the food in the seed would be no good after all that time. How could it be?" Solewey said.

Keep Reading Show less
Science

There's been an uptick in fake emotional support animals (ESAs), which has led some airlines to crack down on which animals can and can't fly. Remember that emotional support peacock?

But some restrictions on ESAs don't fly with the Department of Transportation (DOT), leading them to crack down on the crack down.

Delta says that there has been an 84 percent increase in animal incidents since 2016, thanks in part to the increase of ESAs on airplanes. Last year, Delta airlines banned pit bulls and pit bull-related dog breeds after two airline staff were bitten by the breed while boarding a flight from Atlanta to Tokyo.

"We must err on the side of safety. Most recently, two Delta employees were bit by a pit bull traveling as a support animal last week. We struggled with the decision to expand the ban to service animals, knowing that some customers have legitimate needs, but we have determined that untrained, pit bull-type dogs posing as both service and support animals are a potential safety risk," Delta told People regarding the new rule.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Liam Beach / Facebook

Trying to get one dog to sit still and make eye contact with a camera for more than half a second is a low-key miracle. Lining up 16 dogs, on steps, and having them all stare at the camera simultaneously is the work of a God-like dog whisperer.

This miracle worker is Liam Beach, a 19-year-old animal management graduate from Cardiff, Wales. A friend of his dared him to attempt the shot and he accepted the challenge.

"My friend Catherine challenged me to try to get all of my lot sat on the stairs for a photo. She said, 'I bet you can't pull it off,' so I thought 'challenge accepted,'" he said, accoriding to Paws Planet.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

Americans on both sides of the political aisle can agree on one thing: our infrastructure needs a huge upgrade. While politicians drag their feet on high-speed rail projects, fixing bridges, and building new airports, one amazing project is picking up steam.

The Great American Rail-Trail, a bike path that will connect Washington state to Washington, D.C., is over 50% complete.

The trail is being planned by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit that is working with local governments to make the dream a reality.

Keep Reading Show less
Travel