It's more than playground politics as Tony Cross watched the documentary Elections at Open City Documentary Festival recently...
Elections, directed by Alice Riff, is on the surface about an election at DAS Public School in São Paulo. But there’s more to it than that. Obviously.
It is an interesting time in Brazil’s history. Brazil’s first female President was impeached, there’s been an economic crisis and – as is the pattern of our times – a right-wing, tough talking, climate change denying, homophobic, misogynistic, military loving, rich bloke has been elected President. In this case, Bolsonaro.
That is why this film is great. Some of the student body are keen to get involved. All the student body seem to be on the verge of walking out of school. The school is in something of a state physically speaking. The kids don’t want to be there. The school doesn’t seem to want them to be there either but everyone seems to take these elections seriously.
There end up being four ‘squads’ : Rosa 32, an all-female team named after Rosa Luxemburg (and seem to contain members of the last election winners); More Diversity 14, who are an LGBTQ+ party who want to take on the bullies and the bastards; ID 12, who are very jargon and marketing led (with the hint of evangelical Christianity to their leader at least) and – finally – PAS 33 who just seem to be in it for shits, giggles and girls. PAS 33 are the school dossers, but they’re mostly funny and charming enough.
The one thing we don’t see are the bullies that we hear about. We do, however, see the Police who are called to the school one day to deal with what looks like mass lateness but baffled me a little. Why the school felt the need to call them I never quite understood. It was almost as if it was a warning, but it wasn’t received like that and the kids seemed to just shrug it off as the usual attempts to make their lives difficult. Like them not being allowed to listen to music during their breaks because the neighbours complain. Getting the music back is one of the early – and rule-bending – campaigns by Rosa 32.
We also get two young women – whose names I missed for which I apologise to both – who function as a sort of in-house news team. They make a good double act.
All the teams seem to be campaigning to get back what austerity has taken off them. They want field trips, access to music and arts, guest lectures. It’s an advert for what the state has stripped from schools and left the students to deal with. There are empty, dirty rooms. The classrooms flood when it rains. Everything looks old. There is a clip of one of the teachers ‘teaching’ that makes you wonder why any kids stay in the school at all. Whether that clip is fair or not is moot but the lack of effort by some of their teachers is mentioned by one of the teams during their campaign.
As the campaign goes on the teams clash in what looks like a good-natured if noisy debate. We hear them putting their campaigns together. We see complaints about poster sabotage, but that seems like a small part of the proceedings. In fact, everything seems surprisingly positive, which is one of the best things about this film. Whatever the politics of Brazil now the younger generation seem to be keen to do things better, if Bolsonaro doesn’t burn everything down first.
Yes, there’s the usual apathy but that’s a feature of all generations. There’s cynicism, which seems to be the modern world’s default response to any political action these days. As if generations of greedy, corrupt and incompetent politicians in the pockets of big business would have any other affect. But all the teams, even the shits and giggles PAS 33, seem to be enjoying the process. Up to a point. My favourites were More Diversity, who seemed like my kind of people but there was something glorious – to this jaded 48-year-old man whose own country is currently going through a political mid-life crisis – about the joy and effort involved.
Alice Riff directs this without getting in the way, which is nice to see. Documentarians seems to have different degrees of involvement in what they make. Some of them make themselves part of the proceedings, like Nick Broomfield or Louis Theroux. Others sit back and let the camera take it all in. Before editing, obviously. Riff’s work here is great. It probably helps that young people today* are less self-conscious than my generation might have been. Except that might not be true. They’re more self-conscious perhaps because phone cameras are everywhere but they’re less likely to behave differently. However, a camera must have some effect on what happens.
But worth watching if you want a little dose of Brazilian positivity in a world of cynicism and negativity.
*Please read that in whatever comedy elderly man voice your wish to use for maximum effect.
Follow Tony on Twitter @Lokster71
Image - Open City Documentary Festival