QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM THE SHEFFIELD DOC FEST
Entirely filmed inside the Parque Dom Pedro Hotel in the centre of Sao Paulo, this 85-minute document follows the footsteps of the residents as they attempt to overcome addiction and to find a new purpose in life. The road to recovery, however, is never an easy one. There’s abundant loneliness, violence and despondency in every room of this high-rise building inhabited by broken souls.
This is an entirely fly-on-the-wall type of documentary. There is no voice-over and music score. We follow various residents as they interact with each other, as well as social assistants and pharmacists. They communicate with their loved ones on the telephone, often their only connection with the outside world. Some of the tenants are allowed to leave the building, yet the director opts to focus solely on the activity within this very unusual environment.
Let It Burn is dotted with fragments of fractious lives. In addition to addiction, the majority of these people likely suffer from a vast plethora of mental health issues. Benedita and Rita share a room and are deeply in love with each other. Benedita says that she was previously married and had “about 10 children”. We watch them lie in bed, cuddle and embrace each other with utmost affection. A violent man refuses to move into a smaller room so that so a family of six including four small children can move in. An unnamed tenant begs his beloved Mara on the telephone that she gives him another chance. A toothless man sings a Brazilian: “tell her you saw me crying”. It’s often through music and tears that these people find redemption.
Shockingly, we learn at the end of the movie that Sao Paulo’s new right wing mayor closed down the Parque Dom Pedro facilities just last year, with the residents left to fend for themselves on the streets of the 25-million-inhabitant and cruel metropolis. This is yet another tragic consequence of the reactionary cloud looming large over Brazil since the 2016 coup d’etat.
All in all, this is an audacious piece of filmmaking. It deserves credit for revealing the humanity inside one of the most vulnerable and marginalised sections of society, and also for filming in such a dangerous and volatile environment. On the other hand, I also believe that we film would have benefited from a little more contextualisation in the beginning. It would be useful to understand how and why the facilities were set up, what it achieved in terms of recovery, and the presumably dire consequences of the closing down.
Let It Burn is showing at the Sheffield Doc Fesr, which is takling place right now.