Drug gangs swap pistols and murder for popcorn and movies

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

A pioneering cinema is transforming a once-notorious favela. Geoffrey Macnab visits Rio de Janeiro's new star attraction

Complexo do Alemao, one of the biggest favelas in Rio de Janeiro, used to be known more for drug trafficking than as a place to watch films. This was a no-go area for the police for years – a shantytown full of narrow streets and boarded-up houses, where life resembled something out of Fernando Meirelles' award-winning film, City Of God.

Now, astonishingly, the favela is home to CineCarioca – one of the most successful cinemas in Brazil.

Last week, during the Rio Film Festival, dignitaries, soap stars and foreign guests gathered in Alemao for the launch of the festival's "Free Cinema" programme, an initiative to take movies to places they rarely reach. As they arrived, kids were playing football and street traders were out in force. The only signs of a violent past were the armed troops patrolling the perimeter.

The decision to build a cinema in the heart of Rio's most notorious favela was taken even before last November's "pacification" drive, when the city authorities sent in tanks and expelled the drug dealers. With the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics on the horizon, the idea of leaving large parts of Rio under the control of gangsters was deemed politically unacceptable.

Sergio Sa Leitao, president of production company RioFilme, proposed the project to the city's mayor, Eduardo Paes, in 2008, when Complexo do Alemao was still firmly in the hands of the traffickers. With film piracy rife and huge swathes of the population with no access to cinemas, Mr Paes gave it the go-ahead.

To build CineCarioca, Mr Leitao and his team had to negotiate with the traffickers. "It is a pretty delicate situation," he notes. "In non-pacified favelas, it is almost impossible to do anything without having an agreement with drug dealers." The drug traffickers agreed to not interfere.

Ironically, among the films the traffickers themselves were desperate to see were Elite Squad 1 and Elite Squad 2, hard-hitting thrillers about a special police operations unit. The films portray police brutality in slums and were attacked by some for glorifying violence.

Building the cinema is just one part of an ambitious attempt at urban renewal across the favelas. Media centres are also being built to provide local people with access to the internet.

In Alemao today, you cannot help but notice the contrast between the state-of-the-art cinema and media building and the decrepit houses.

The initial aim was to open the cinema in March 2011. However, after Alemao was cleared of drug bosses, the opening date was brought forward to December 2010.

The first film screened at the new cinema was the remake of Tron. Another early coup for the venue was bringing US star Jesse Eisenberg to the favela for the premiere of Rio.

The cinema is relatively small – it has 93 seats – but it screens about half a dozen shows a day, and its occupancy rate of 55 per cent is among the highest in the country. Admission costs four reals (just under £1.50), and the venue's success has driven DVD pirates out of business.

As social commentators point out, traffickers in the favelas were reacting to the demand for drugs from middle-class consumers in more affluent parts of the city, such as Copacabana and Ipanema. That demand is still there, even if the traffickers are banished for now from Complexo do Alemao.

For the kids swarming around the new venue, CineCarioca is a godsend – not that locals agree with all programming decisions. When the Rio Festival last week screened the slow-moving French film, The House Of Tolerance, the response of the audience was very muted.

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone