JP and AQ: When we started making this film, Sol Nascente was still a neighbourhood of the city of Ceilândia. When we finished, after the presidential election of 2018, Sol Nascente had become the largest “Administrative District” of the Federal District, the RA XXXIII, the most recent satellite-city of Brasília. Here in the Federal District, any periphery is named a “satellite” of Brasília. It’s a hallucination that always brings us back to the imaginary of science fiction. The city of Ceilândia was the first peripheral territory of the Federal District. Ceilândia was created in 1971 and it is known as RA IX. In the last 51 years, other 24 new satellite-cities have emerged, one on top of another, squeezing and turning the imaginary wings of Oscar Niemeyer’s airplane into vast peripheries (Brasília is a city that was designed and planned in the form of an airplane).
Ceilândia thus emerges eleven years after Brasília was constructed, determined by its own name: C-E-I is an abbreviation of Campaign for the Eradication of the Invaders. With the passing of time, everything that could be a stigma deriving from that name, which was meant to be shameful for the inhabitants of the city, becomes a shield for the people who live in Ceilândia. Generation after generation we have transformed that name in poetry, music, a football team, and a pride, a shield glazed by the memory and the feeling of fighting for everyone who was born here and everyone who lives here.
The process of construction of Ceilândia was dramatic. By 1971, Brasília was already completely built. The initial plan had given place to its modernist buildings and roads, a true postcard which was a source of pride for the state, the nation, and the academic and artistic elites of Brazil. But something stained that postcard: a large favela, home to around 100.000 people, which was placed right next to Brasilia’s international airport. People from all over the world who came to see, for the first time, the latest and greatest work of Brazilian modernism, the supposed example of the most equalitarian city, would have to face the favela first. This is a contradiction common in large urban centres in Latin America.
In 1971, Brazil was still governed by a military regime. Freedom of expression and free press were prohibited. That favela – which was multiple, which encompassed many situations and many worlds interacting in its space – was inhabited mostly by men and women who had come to work on the construction of Brasília. When the construction ended, the Brazilian state decided that those people were no longer useful, and they no longer had a right to be there. They had built the city, but obviously were no longer welcome in it. After all, Brasília was a city built for politicians, for public servants of the highest echelons, and for the Brazilian intellectuals. Those people who had built Brasília, and who lived in the favela near the airport, were under the cut line for those whose work made them qualified to live in the city. They were mostly migrants, people from the sertão in the interior of Brazil, a sort of lumpenproletariat. In March 1971, in a true war operation which took less than two weeks, the Brazilian army removed these people out of Brasília and threw them 40 kilometres into the cerrado, in an area that was an insalubrious desert, dry, where there was no water, no electricity, or any kind of infrastructure. It is estimated that 80.000 people were removed as part of that operation. It was the beginning of an apartheid. Big trucks were lined up in order to forcefully remove people and their belongings, including the wood which formed the walls of their shacks, so that they could use it to build new shacks in that new city far away. With this operation, Brasília affirms its aseptic policy and it constitutes its broken mirror, the dystopia to its utopia: Ceilândia. Those in power thought that the people who had been removed would not withstand the conditions of the desert they had been brought to. As such, they would voluntarily abandon their migratory condition and return to their places of origin. However, that idea of a place of origin was no longer a reality for them. That place had been frozen in a distant past, and a new Brazil had been presented to them and had taken its place. Those people did not give up, they did not abandon their land, and they built the largest territory of the Federal District, Ceilândia, which today is home to half a million people, with three generations of histories of fighting against the historical prejudice that was at the genesis of the formation of their territory.
The groups of people who came to Ceilândia in March 1971 were very heterogeneous. The neighbourhoods that had been removed had both informal workers and people employed in servicing Brasília: gardeners, guards, bakers, doormen, cleaners. There were also many people who came from nightly work at bars, restaurants, and clubs. A very curious fact, and also very violent, was that in the beginning of the construction of Brasília, the city was inhabited mostly by men who worked in the heavy realm of construction. At a certain moment, a tension had been established. These men had come to the city and had left their families in their places of origin. The government, trying to establish order in the workplace and assure the continuation of the construction that needed to be done, started bringing in women to work in the city at night, mostly in prostitution. One of these neighbourhoods, Morro do Urubú, was known as the home to a large number of brothels. The entirety of Morro do Urubú was also removed to Ceilândia, more specifically to Ceilândia Norte. Some of those women came pregnant, others carrying small children. Many of those children grew up without knowing who their father was. A big part of the first generation of young people in Ceilândia are thus the children of single mothers. This fact has also marked the second and third generations. In our film, we wanted to deal with that history and create a narrative that would be in dialogue with it, since despite it being very recent, it is also already forgotten. The protagonists in our film are part of a historical cycle of three generations of single mothers. The representations of this myth in the creation of Ceilândia, with its social and territorial characteristics, with its contradictions, interested us because it created an imaginary of fighting that we wanted to be very present in the film.
This city was under a continuous and intense form of oppression by the state, materialized by its police force. The CEI stereotype was easy material for criminal tabloids, and thus fueled a legitimization of police brutality and the aggressive actions they’d take against the people who live here. Here, the state has always acted in a pragmatic way, following a program of systematic incarceration. Myself, Adirley (as the question interpellates me directly), I have lived in this city since 1974. I was four years old when my parents, who were peasants by origin, arrived here. They arrived after being removed from the countryside, in a process that was very common at the beginning of landowner expansion, legitimized by the incipient idea of the landed property system which gave rise to the whole contemporary agribusiness policy in Brazil. I’ve lived in this city my whole life, I have met my friends here – many of them jailed or killed – and I have made all my films here (the three past features, and now this new film, co-directed with Joana Pimenta, who answers these questions with me.)
When urban planning arrives in Ceilândia, the centre expands, capitalizes, becomes inflated, and expels the poorest pioneers of the city. Sol Nascente first emerged as a neighbourhood of Ceilândia. It housed the poorest inhabitants of the city, who escaped the inflated cost of rent. So the expansion of the neighbourhood is initially made in its essence by people from Ceilândia who have lived the first removal from Brasília, and again live through a process of exodus to Sol Nascente. The removal process, a process of exclusion, is of a cyclical nature amongst the poorest and the peripheral, it always returns. This third generation of Ceilândia inhabitants, armed with their young children, many newborn, and with old parents and grandparents, repeat, almost as if in a reenactment, the expurgation done in 1971: they are thrown into a periphery of the periphery, and have to begin again the torment of building a new place to live. Rapidly, Sol Nascente grows to 200.000 inhabitants (besides the people who arrive from Ceilândia, many others come to the neighbourhood, impulsionated by the possibility of work that the imaginary of Brasília creates). With such a steep rise in population, politicians immediately become interested in turning the neighbourhood into a city. Many people, many votes. The political capital becomes open to those who campaign in that space. And that political capital is occupied mainly by groups connected to the evangelical church. That is determinant to understand what we may call “popular” in contemporary Brazil. We can no longer talk about public policy for the popular classes without taking into consideration the permanence of the evangelical church in the peripheries. The political left and the progressive groups, in my perspective, have taken a long time to understand that, if they have ever understood it at all. A large part of the people who live in Sol Nascente – which now with its official city status has been renamed RA XXXIII – have informal work (they are motorcycle delivery workers, street vendors, they work in market stalls, etc.), and many have been subjected to the carceral system, which takes a very quotidian presence in their lives.
The film, to a certain extent, tries to provoke a tension between what is idealized by the politics of these groups – them being either reactionary, conservative, or progressive – and the imaginary of peripheral people who have experienced very different trajectories. We are talking about a generation of people who were completely dispossessed and overlooked in terms of public policy by the state, who do not have an immediate connection with the identity groups and their often centre-based political slogans, who survive daily in a country polarized between the discourse of the right and that of the left, while both control the central narratives and forget the many nuances that fall in-between. We are talking about peripheral people who are not encompassed, and have never been, by the official discourse of what constitutes “Brazilianness.” In that sense, to make films in a place like this changes everything. It defies all expectations, it requires that the film changes constantly, that it is always open, many times fragile, but having the potential to be human and to be alive. To make films in a place like this doesn’t abide by the workbook of “correct cinema.” It is necessary to re-create a new model for production, and a new perspective towards technique and towards the idea of who qualifies as a professional in cinema. Joana and I have experienced and lived all these contradictions for more than three years, trying to understand what possible film could exist in this adventure we were living with Chitara, Léa, Andreia, China, Débora, Cocão, Franklin, and all the motoboys. We were all encompassed by this political and territorial trajectory of the imaginary of Brasília and Brazilianness. The corner is our agora. The corner is our ancestor.