DGA Special Projects and the DGA Latino Committee hosted a special event screening of Fernando Meirelles' City of God on March 24 at the DGA in Los Angeles. Director Jesús Salvador Treviño, DGA Diversity Task Force member and co-founder of the Latino Committee, moderated the post-film discussion with writer/producer Wladimir Weltman, whose firsthand knowledge of Brazil's entertainment industry and insight into the making of director Meirelles' internationally acclaimed film were shared with DGA members and invited guests — including several members of the Los Angeles-based Brazilian Consulate's office.
The presentation was one of an ongoing series of screenings focusing on global cinema arranged by the DGA. The intention is to use the medium of film itself to unite DGA members and filmmakers from around the world to facilitate not only cultural exchange, but also a dialogue encompassing the ongoing challenges faced by directors everywhere as they struggle to put their creative vision on the screen.
With this in mind, Meirelles — nominated for an Academy Award for his incisive direction of City of God, and currently in Africa preparing his next film — presented his thoughts in a prepared statement read by Weltman.
"Reading (the original novel) City of God was a revelation — a revelation of another side of my country," according to Meirelles. "I realized that we, from the middle class, are unable to see what is going on right in front of our noses. We have no idea of the abyss which separates these two countries — Brazil and Brazil. State laws, citizenship, police, education, perspectives on the future are all abstract concepts. I decided to make a movie which was true to the book, from the inside of a favela (ghetto) out. A movie with no scenarios and no acting techniques. Without even any professional actors, but with kids who lived this reality and can transmit to others a little of what it feels like, living on the other side of the tracks. I was luckily able to find others crazy enough to dive into the project with the same passion as I. We made this film out of sheer spite, gussied up by enthusiasm. But City of God is not only about a Brazilian issue, but one that involves the whole world — about societies which develop on the outskirts of the opulence of the first world, a world that is no longer able to see the third or fourth world on the other side, who are deep down in the abyss."
Indeed, the relentlessly audacious City of God — which focuses its thoroughly unsentimental eye on the children weaned on the favelas' soul-crushing poverty and overt violence — chronicles an epic story that follows its characters from childhood in the 1960s through teenaged battles in the 1970s, and ending with tragedy, heroism, and ultimate redemption in the 1980s.
"Fernando thought that the best thing to do was to get the people who lived this kind of life to present the film," Weltman explained in the post-film discussion. Two thousand children were recruited from favelas in Rio and Sao Paulo, with a "final group" of 200 receiving acting training and consideration for full-fledged roles in the film.
"A lot of situations in the film (originated) with the kids themselves," Weltman noted. "For instance, before they go out for an attack, (young hoodlums) all pray together. That's something they told the director that they used to do. So Fernando incorporated that into the script."
Treviño added that while City of God "is clearly an indictment against the conditions of poverty," it also "doesn't treat its very powerful social theme in a preachy manner; it does it in an entertaining manner. But yet you walk away from the film, and you can't help but remember the images of these young people — children, really, who are being killed and killing others, and the dire reality that they face."
Asked about the volatile film's reception in its native land, Weltman explained that Brazilian cinema audiences were "amazed" by City of God, because "first of all, it's a great film. Independently. Even if it's Brazilian or not. And it's very honest with the reality of our society there." After production was completed, Weltman added, a workshop was maintained for the kids, "in order to get them some kind of jobs, some kind of direction in their lives, even if they weren't necessarily going to be actors."
Treviño noted that when he helped create the DGA Latino Committee in 1990, "we were not the largest ethnic minority in the United States. Today we are.
"Our feeling is that there's a lot of interesting Latino filmmaking going on not only here in the United States, but also in Brazil and Mexico and other countries," Treviño said. "And our point of view is that this huge Latin-American audience, both statewide and in Latin America, is potentially 'our market,' if you will. We've had successes, and we want to highlight them — and certainly City of God (is a part of that)."