Open City Documentary Festival kicked off on Tuesday 4 September with a screening of Baronesa, a truly insightful film from first-time filmmaker Juliana Antunes. Through blurring the line between non-fiction and fiction, Baronesa gives a heartachingly honest and compelling look at life in the favelas of Belo Horizonte.
The film is expertly crafted, it initially creates a false sense of security as we watch characters drink and joke around at home. Women share crude sex stories, children play in the street and old friends laughingly tease each other. Despite most Open City Documentary Festival audiences being so far removed from the living conditions faced in Brazil’s favelas, the family relations feel homely. It is then all the more crippling to watch the dark reality of the poverty and endemic violence of life in the favela.
The story follows the interactions of friends Andreia and Leid as they try to get by in the face of an impending gang-war playing out on their doorstep. Leid struggles to raise 3 sons on her own while Andreia plans to move to the safer neighbourhood of Baronesa. Their caring and supportive relationship is like many other close female friendships across the world, although the problems they tackle are extreme.
The screening was followed by a Q&A in which Antunes stated that her intended audience for the film is “Brazilian women”. She raised the point that the majority of favelas in Brazil are named after men, and that women’s voices are rarely heard in discussions about the future of the favelas. Over the course of 5 years, Antunes worked with a majority female crew to share her portrait of life for the millions of women who reside in favelas across Brazil.
To close the discussion, Antunes discussed her fears for Brazil amidst an increasingly turbulent political landscape – and in light of the upcoming presidential elections in October 2018. She voiced concern that life in the favelas may not improve any time soon.
– Sam Stone. Sam is a reporter and aspiring film-maker based in Bristol and London.