*FSR traveled to Manaus, Brazil to attend and cover the 8th Amazonas Film Festival. See all our coverage here.*

I’m sitting in a small van and staring at a Brazilian police officer standing a few feet away with a submachine gun in his hands. He’s not alone. The van starts up and soon our motorcade is weaving its way through the city streets of Manaus, from the hotel and commercial area through the graffiti filled downtown, heading towards the Amazonas Opera House. Police officers on motorbikes escort the caravan along, rushing past at tremendous speed to block off the intersections ahead before repeating the process once all the cars have passed.

The experience was more than a little surreal, and I can only wonder what the throngs of pedestrians watching the caravan of tinted windows speed by were thinking. As my movie-addled mind is prone to do I immediately started thinking of similar scenes from films with the most notable one being Clear and Present Danger. Sure that was Columbia and not Brazil, but that didn’t stop me from scanning the rooftops for rebels aiming rocket launchers down upon us.

As frenetic as the ride was, especially when combined with the already aggressive driving style of every single person in the city, it served as a tonal balance to the events of earlier in the day. Nothing like a lazy ride on the Amazon River to clear your mind and soul of unnecessary daily debris.

The day began with a short road trip to Manaus’ port area where we boarded large, two story boats and headed down the Rio Negro river to the Meeting Of the Waters. The Rio Negro river meets the Rio Solimões, and eventually the two become one under their collective name, the Amazon. Unlike most bodies of water that join together though these two rivers flow side by side for almost six kilometers before finally mixing into one. The two are literally distinguishable for that distance thanks to a difference in temperature and water density, and you can see them coexist side by side for miles. One is dark and murky, and the other is more of a coffee and cream brown. You can put your hands into each, side by side just inches apart, and feel the difference.

It’s weird. And it was made all the stranger by the presence of two police boats riding alongside of us to protect us from river monsters. Or maybe just for our safety in general.

A few of us then headed over to the Biological Research Facility (a place in desperate need of a less frightening name). I was assured there would be no monkeys being used as crash test dummies or rabbits with makeup smeared inside their eyelids, and that promise was kept. Instead the place is a small zoo of sorts used to educate the public and rehabilitate animals for return to the wild.

That last bit is actually why we were there as the the facility was planning to release two scarlet macaws from captivity. It was a highly organized event featuring two Brazilian film/TV stars on hand as the creatures’ “godparents” and an actual release ceremony complete with speeches and music. The birds were gorgeous and ridiculously vibrant with their brightly colored feathers, and seeing them fly up into the trees was an exciting interlude in our day. The festival uses the bird’s image as a symbol so the celebration here was fitting even if the cynic inside of me did question the possibility that these are trained birds that returned to their cages after the journalists left only to be “released” again some other day. (They’re not.)

The day’s films are covered below, but after the screenings we were taken to Manaus’ Cultural Center for dinner and night-clubbing. The dinner part was mostly uneventful aside from the bit where I made an enemy for life in one of the other journalists when I referred to Roger Ebert as a douche. I scaled back my apparently slanderous statement to a more focused claim that Ebert acts douchey in his reviews (this in regard to his habit of spoiling movies, usually ones he dislikes), but alas, the damage was done. Still, fisticuffs averted, we agreed to disagree and adjourned to the onsite dance club for free drinks and house music, and while the process of getting into the club seemed more fitting for Fort Knox we eventually made it in and imbibed freely. Standing there, drinks in hand, techno music pumping through our ears and souls, we surveyed the packed dance floor with a surprising sadness.

This was a club, in Brazil, and the only movement on the dance floor was from people checking their cell phones. So the four whitest hominids in the country walked on down to show the locals how it’s done.

By “how it’s done” I of course mean making up dance moves as you go along while not worrying that you look like complete and utter fools. And we nailed it folks.

Today’s films included two shorts and one feature, but sadly, all three were fairly disappointing to one degree or another.

SHORTS

To Be or Not To Be (Brazil, dir. Leo Mura) – Brazil’s aboriginal people have shared a similar fate to the one experienced by those from other countries, including our own. People and cultures have been wiped out, first by war, famine, and disease, and later by neglect and segregation. This short examines how the youth is reacting to the lives they find themselves in and their desire to leave it all behind. It’s brief and sad, but serves more as a window into a few people’s lives than a detailed explanation or conversation on the topic.

Waterfall (Brazil, dir. Sérgio Andrade) – This short follows a similar theme as the one that preceded it, but instead of a documentary approach it explores the youth’s reactions through fiction. Indian teens in the Amazon region party and drink homemade brews filled with all manner of vile ingredients to forget their lives and sometimes end them. As stated, this is a fictional short, but it’s purportedly based on true stories. If that is the case then it’s remarkably depressing in theory as lives are being wasted. But teenagers behave similarly all around the world, and very little is shown or stated here to make a case for these teens being any different. The details are different, but the shortsighted, overly dramatic teenagers are the same.

FEATURE

O Carteiro (Brazil, dir. Reginaldo Faria) – Victor is a small town postman who dreams of bigger and better things and passes the time by opening, reading, and resealing letters between his neighbors. When a cute new girl named Marli arrives in town he immediately begins intercepting her mail and discovers she’s in a long distance relationship. His affection for her combined with his already slack code of ethics leads to all manner of confusion, misunderstandings and comedic mayhem.

This is an odd film. It’s bad, that’s fairly clear, but part of that disconnect may be due to cultural reasons as the Brazilians in the audience seemed to enjoy the hell out of it. It’s just unclear why… first, the lead character is an irredeemable prick who does terrible things but is neither apologetic nor made to pay a price. And yet we’re asked to care about his supposed feelings and desires? Next, the comedy is either non-existent or so poorly done as to invoke feelings of anger. You’ve never seen pratfalls and other acts of physical comedy done so ineptly as you will here. The script is almost as amateurish as story threads are dealt with a heavy and ignorant hand. On the bright side though the location where they filmed in southern Brazil is absolutely beautiful… as is Ana Carolina Muchado who plays the skirt-wearing Marli.

*FSR traveled to Manaus, Brazil to attend and cover the 8th Amazonas Film Festival. See all our coverage here.*


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