Open City Documentary Festival

Open City Documentary Festival 2019 – Focus: Elections, Those Who Refuse To Be Defeated

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Here, Catriona Mahmoud writes on Alice Riff’s Elections, looking at how through its depiction of youth, it reveals a future that many in Brazil may themselves be unable to see.

Brazil’s recent history has seen countless protests, the impeachment of their first female president, an economic crisis, and the election of far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro. With so much political turmoil, it’s no surprise that people feel like democracy is deteriorating. 2018 arguably saw the peak of the country’s decline, with Bolsonaro’s unprecedented winning campaign strategy, eerily familiar in its focus on manipulating social media and spreading fake news, arriving alongside regular reports of campaign corruption, violence and murder. 

Meanwhile, a public school in São Paulo were holding their own elections for student government. In a rousing speech to her fellow classmates, one student proclaimed that “democracy should be the power of the people.” To the students of DAS Public School, the prospect of running a political campaign became an exciting exercise of creativity and self-realisation as well as a lesson in respect and equality. Alice Riff’s Elections introduces us to a student body determined to make their voice heard. In a country ruled by a man who is proudly homophobic, nostalgic for military rule and believes women should remain in the home, Brazil’s present seems imperilled. It’s a relief that Riff has captured the country’s future then, particularly during a time of such uncertainty.

The students have split into four parties. Rosa 32: an all-female team named after a revolutionist and the year women were given the right to vote in Brazil. More Diversity 14: an LGBTQ+ party dedicated to representation and inclusivity, passionate about ending bullying. PAS 33: an all-male group who join the campaign trail mostly to cut class and hang out with the school’s most attractive girls. And ID 12: a party whose intentions seem unclear, but understand the power of brand exposure and eye-catching marketing. Brazil’s future, the generation of youth known for news-breaking Occupy movements and widespread protest against the rapidly changing education system, has been wonderfully captured by Riff on film. Between campaign meetings, students discuss their options for the future and express their higher education choices, favouring safe-bet employment options instead of their true passions of arts, culture or music, in order to avoid “going hungry”.

The parties spend the lead-up to their election strategising, debating, and campaigning, figuring out ways to win their fellow students’ approval and trust, something that is thin on the ground after last year’s Student Government proved unable to stop the drastic cuts to arts and music funding. Despite all seeking to run for different reasons and holding varying ideologies, they all repeatedly express similar goals: to provide their classmates with access to arts and culture. Whether it be reinstating music during lunchtimes, organising field trips to museums, or implementing week long cultural guest lectures, they all crave what Brazil’s government has deprived them. Riff, and the students of DAS Public School take this opportunity to show the world the impact of cutting arts funding. We watch São Paulo’s dust-covered classroomscluttered with unopened musical instruments and unused art suppliesrepurposed for a revolt against the education system that is failing them.

Elections is a lesson in the revolutionary nature of those who refuse to be defeated. It allows us to see the impact that austerity has on a country’s future whilst providing a glimmer of hope: offering the knowledge that those who aren’t even old enough to vote yet are ready to act in defiance to educate themselves.

Catriona Mahmoud is a cinema and film festival marketing specialist based in London, and a marketing assistant at Open City Documentary Festival.

Alice Riff’s Elections screens at Curzon Soho on Wednesday 4th September.