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Quilombo Country

More like a school documentary than something you’d want to see at the cinema.

Quilombo Country is that dubious creation, a documentary made with an agenda. On the first page of the press release we’re told twice that the film is narrated by the ‘legendary poet, media commentator and leader of the iconic hip hop band Public Enemy, Chuck D’. It’s funny that they boast about this as his narration is quite wooden and irritating.

So why is a film about Brazilian villages in the jungle narrated by Chuck D? Checking the reviews we see that Quilombo Country won the Best Documentary prize at the Black International Cinema Festival in Berlin and also won glowing praise from Black Camera. And then it sinks in, the escaped slaves who founded the villages featured in the documentary were also… black! And now their brothers a few thousand miles north have come to film them.

It was raining, however, so I decided to watch the rest of the documentary if only to bring back my Portuguese and memories of Brazil. And yes, there were the little Brazilian villages where everyone manages to have a good time despite living on next to nothing and the villagers told the usual tale of being screwed by the big farms (owned by WHITES, thanks, Chuck) and forced off their land.

Surprisingly, though, Quilombo Country gets better once Chuck takes a break and they manage to film some of the Candomble ceremonies where African spirits are invited to come and possess the bodies of the dancers. We also see festivals where cachaca is sprayed over everything as ‘the sacred and the profane go side by side’ and it’s great to be reminded that the world is still a large and varied place.

Once the Brazilians are allowed to speak for themselves we’re allowed into their world a little and see what miserable choices they’re offered. The jungle animals aren’t around any more to provide good eating, having been scared off by encroaching development and a large part of their lives is comprised of gruelling and tedious work preparing flour from the jungle root, tapioca.

Still, they don’t wake up in the morning and worry about which avatar to put on their yahoo profile.

Quilombo Country is a bit ridiculous in its agenda and the narration is some of the worst you’ll ever hear but there is some great footage of a way of life most people will never get to see. It belongs more in a sleepy classroom than a cinema but anyone who wants to understand how the underbelly of rural Brazil works could do worse than to see this film.