For the next three days, we go in and out of Rocinha. A gunman greets us at the entrance one day in English. “Hello my friends. Welcome to Rocinha, the most beautiful place in the world.”
Around 9pm on Friday night, Ferg and Ryan take establishing shots of Rocinha while Gwendolyn and Luke wander over to the field. Luke scratches the back of his neck and asks the group of guys sitting by the fence if they are about to play. One burly guy in a green and blue striped t-shirt seems to be the center of the show. He wears a long gold chain and a bright pink stopwatch around his neck and everyone calls him The Boss. This guy, Anderson, is the leader of Família Valão. Valão, which means both “big sewer” and “common grave” in Portuguese, is the name of the street in Rocinha they all live on. Anderson divides the guys into three teams by tossing out red pennies, blue pennies and jerseys that say Família Valão in a font made to look like dripping blood. We play until midnight. The lights are dim and it is too dark to film.
The following night we pursue the story of the waiters. We film and eat at Pizza & Grill Gambino, which offers 180 different pizzas with toppings ranging from sushi to stroganoff. At 1am, when the garcons have put the chairs up on the tables, washed the floors, and taken out the trash, they change from yellow vests and bow ties into floral board shorts. As we pass other restaurants at closing time, they call out to waiters through the open windows and signal toward the field. On the benches beside the concrete court, they uncap jugs of homemade caipirinhas and pass out small plastic cups. We down the lime, sugar, and cachaça, Ryan and Ferg head to different camera angles, and Gwendolyn and Luke join the Pizza & Grill team. We can hear the waves.
At 4am, the game winds down and we sit. Gwendolyn asks the head-phoned waiter who watched from the sideline what he was listening to…he gives her his ear buds and takes her through the Rocky theme song and Kelly Clarkson. By 4:30am, we walk down empty streets and the waiters stay with us until they can put us in a cab.
By 7:55am, we are back in Rocinha, wanting the story of the street. We meet Anderson in a narrow corridor of Valão. His family—uncles, aunts, parents, cousins, and grandparents—live in a three or four story building, a different generation on each level. We duck into his room, the first level. He shows us a row of large futebol trophies and a corner full of kites. Our guide, Emerson, says, “The big man is a little boy. Always flying his kites.”
Anderson slings his knapsack across his chest and we leave, winding through the maze of narrow passageways. The morning papers are hung out on a laundry line. He shuffles behind a group of men until he can see the headlines: Marta, Marta, Marta / Brazil 4, Estados Unidos 0. Motorcycles honk as they weave through the crowd of people striding toward their mornings. Anderson stops into his grandfather’s bar. His grandmother is behind the counter, shaking coffee through a water filter. He eats a baguette, chugs down his cup of coffee, and we leave. As we turn our back on Valão, he points out words that have been painted over but which you can still see: Família Valão, good at futebol, funk, jiu jitsu, and women.
We part ways at the foot bridge—Anderson heads towards his job delivering hospital supplies and we head toward a beach game in Ipanema. As we leave, we know Família Valão won’t make it into the film. In the end, we weren’t allowed to pull out our cameras enough in Rocinha to tell the full story. We think about the Flannery O’Connor quote about having to kill your darlings. Rocinha is our first killed baby. In the next few days, we’ll also catch our first virus and have our first travel glitch…
While walking through the fields of Flamengo, we stop and watch a thirteen-year-old girl nicknamed Ronaldinha. The nickname fits: she’s got his charisma and flair both on and off the field. We drive an hour and a half to meet her in her favela in Nitteroí, where she’s played in peladas with boys since she was four. We play and film at the dirt field twenty or so yards beneath her house. Luke realizes he’s going to be that guy who got beat by a very small girl. She is very, very good.
Ronaldinha and her friends nickname Ryan “Michael Jordan.” As he is neither a basketball player nor black, we assume it’s because he is (kind of) tall. Ryan eats up the only time he’ll be called something that cool. Disappointingly, Luke garners the nickname of neither an athlete nor a handsome black man. They call him Macauley Culkin. (In Trinidad, they thought he looked like Bill Clinton—we’re not sure how these two mesh…)
We sleep on the floor of Ronaldinha’s house. At one point Ryan is told to go sleep at another house, wakes up there to a drunk man kicking him out in Portuguese, and promptly returns to Ronaldinha’s house. At some point in the night, in one of the two houses (which one we’ll never know), he acquires pink eye. Ferg, who shares the camera’s eye piece, has begun using the LCD screen more frequently.
We calculate the price of four bus tickets from Rio to Santos and then try to find a taxi-driver who will drive us down the coastal route at the same price. Neco, who got out of our cab ride at one point to show us how tall his seventeen-year-old goalkeeping son is, decides he’s ready to see the coast for the first time. We see a whole lot of the coast…and realize that taking a cab driver out of his familiar terrain is not necessarily the best idea.
At 1pm, he glanced at the map, did a mini-samba, and told Luke that we were doing well and should be there within two hours. At 11pm, we pull into Santos. After four or five times asking for directions, we count: we asked twenty-one different Brazilians for directions. Neco wipes his head with a handkerchief about once a minute and tells us that we have taken him very far away. At times—on very dark roads—he turns his lights off. While we’d worried about the safety of our cameras on public buses, we now realizing driving a cab from Rio de Janeiro at night time could be a much worse idea. Finally, we arrive at our destination. Ryan’s sister has recently married a Brazilian and we are staying with her in-laws. Understandably, Neco wants a rest. Ryan wonders if asking his new family if the taxi driver can sleep over will affect his first impression. Luckily, Neco decides he’s had plenty of time with us already and gets on the road…leaving a contagious eye disease as the only thing that will mar Ryan’s first impression.
(Also, you never know how many barking dogs there are until you are trying to film.)