TropicalFRONT Festival do Rio Report: Rio and Samba in Focus

By Mary Jane Marcasiano

A Brazilian friend recently told me that Cariocas love to see themselves on screen. I imagine they are very happy this week! In the Premiere Brazil section of this year's Festival do Rio, as well as other sections, we find Brazilian and foreign filmmakers looking at Rio and particularly at one of Rio's iconic cultural forms, the samba.

Jefferson Mello's Doc, Samba & Jazz (pictured left), premiered September 26th and explores the synergy between samba and jazz and the similarities between the cities and inhabitants of Rio and New Orleans. The following day, a film that was originally shot in 2005, on the Velha Guarda of Rio's samba schools, was finally finished in 2013, after the passing of some of these old samba personalities. Directors Eric and Marc Behassen's documentary shows the past and present samba worlds through the eyes of these Guardioes Do Samba.

On October first, at Rio's classic Teatro Municipal, the fiction film Trinta (pictured right) had its world premier. Based on the real life story of Joãosinho Trinta, the famed carnival parade director, Paulo Machline's film, set in 70's Rio, chronicles Trinta's rise from a corp de ballet dancer at Teatro Municipal to his first assignment as the artistic director of Rio's famed Salgueiro Samba School. As Trinta struggles with his first Carnival he ultimately reinvents the genre and starts a career that will have a lasting effect on the samba schools Salgueiro and Beija-Flor, making him one of the most beloved and influential figures of contemporary Carnival. Matheus Nachtergaele, asTrinta, captures this artist's fiery drive for fame and the screenplay, along with the beautiful sets and costumes, creates the excitement and tension of a community's quest to become carnival champions.

A few nights earlier, George Gachot's film O Samba (pictured left), premiered in the Panorama section of the festival, in the company of some of Rio's samba royalty. Gachot, a Swiss filmmaker who's genre is the music documentary, has previously made beautiful films on Brazilian singers Maria Bethania and Nana Cayami. O Samba focuses on the samba school Vila Isabel and Martinho da Vila, the schools famed composer, telling the story of Samba's roots and exploring its contemporary identity. In the film and in attendance were Mart'nalia, Beth Carvalho and many of Vila Isabel's members.

Also premiering in the Panorama section of the festival is British director Julien Temple's film, Rio 50 Graus, referring to the high Celsius temperature that heats up Rio to its max. This prized documentarian (The Filth and The Fury and Joe Strummer:The Future is Unwritten) offers a look at the cultural and social history of Rio from the end of slavery up until the preparations for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Interviewing former revolutionaries, the city's current mayor, transvestite prostitutes and favela citizens, the film explores many aspects of the cities joys and problems. Of course samba plays an important role in this telling of Rio's history.