Thursday, 12 June 2014

Brazil's Mellowed Yellows

Finally! Today sees the start of Brazil's month-long party and who's going to admit they're not at least a little bit excited? Get the crushed ice and limes ready! Also, while you're at it, prepare for police brutality and lungs full of tear gas.

Recent research revealed that 61% of Brazilians are now against the World Cup. That, when you think about it, is an incredible statistic. Several years ago almost the entire country was in favour of hosting the event, but evidence suggests enthusiasm has faded. How this enormous swing in public opinion has occurred I hope is answered in my films (FIFA and the Perfect Con).

Though 61% of the population may be against the World Cup I wouldn't suggest for one moment that they won't be tuning in to watch their yellow-shirted heroes later today. It may be a moral tightrope, but I for one am walking it with ease, and I expect most Brazilians will too. I have no problem with being against FIFA and their abhorrent World Cup model whilst being excited by the prospect of four weeks of watching the best players in the world in action (and England).

Salvador © Ryan Chapman

Over three weeks ago I arrived in the sun-drenched city of Salvador to begin my filmmaking adventure. Not many people go to Salvador for a week without hitting the beach, but that was me. If I wasn't out meeting people and shooting interviews I was sat with my laptop and Final Cut Pro with a flowing supply of coffee. I did find the time to explore Salvador's streets - even plucking up the 'courage' to leave the confines of the 'tourist safe' three-block centre of the old town - and what I saw cemented my preconceptions that Salvador is a city of contrasts. Cobbled roads lined with colourful colonial buildings by which men sit playing dominoes soon give way to chaotic thoroughfares where shops compete for attention by blaring out terrible dance music amid the enthusiastic hooting of a thousand impatient drivers.

Most people I encountered would enquire as to whether I was there for the World Cup and would be happy to talk about it. We'd invariably communicate in either their broken English or my terrible Spanish-Portuguese-hybrid and conclude with a laugh that England have no chance. Only when I questioned them further would they reveal their feelings towards the government and FIFA, and on every single occasion they admitted that their passion for the tournament had been diluted. And this was in Salvador: a city that hadn't seen protests on the same scale as cities in the south.

Brasilia © Ryan Chapman

From Salvador, the first capital of Brazil, I flew to Brasilia: the current. For a period in between, Rio had the privilege, but in the late 1950's it was decided that Brazil's government should be more centrally located and so two men were tasked with designing a new capital. I like to imagine them plotting the roads and utilities on Sim City, perhaps sending in the occasional tornado or alien invasion when things got boring. The architect of the pair's work is well celebrated thanks to the striking modernist nature of his creations. The urban planner, however, did not receive many accolades.

He did not design a pedestrian-friendly city, having assumed everyone who lives there would drive cars. As a result, Brasilia lacks street-life and thus personality. It is split into zones specific to their purpose - residential, commercial, banking, hotels - inside which blocks are assigned numbers and buildings are assigned letters. There's something eerily science-fictional about the repetitive layout and the uniformed naming convention. Even the metro stations are numbered (I won't admit how many times I got off at Sul 108 instead of Sul 106. Or was it Sul 104? I forget.)

On my second day in Brasilia was an anti-World Cup protest which I document comprehensively in Part 2 of my films (which, by the way, will be online tomorrow). As a consequence of my experience during this protest my opinion has changed. Originally, I thought the significance of the occasion, and the importance of the World Cup to Brazilian society, might prevent people from protesting and disrupting the tournament. However, I've now realised what a small role the World Cup is playing. Instead, it is the violence of the military police that is keeping people off the streets. Many people are simply too scared. It seems in Brazil the government is successfully repressing the people, and it's not a very pleasant thing to be witnessing.

Ipanema Beach, Rio © Ryan Chapman

I'm now in Rio, and over the last week or so I have noticed gradually increasing levels of what can only be described as World Cup fever seeping in. There are several streets drowning in flags and stalls on major junctions selling just about everything in yellow and green that you can think of. By all accounts, however, it's not happening on even close to the same scale as it usually does during a World Cup. You'd expect hosting the event would intensify the carnival atmosphere, but apparently not this time.

When the actions of a governing body causes the most passionate supporters of the thing it is governing to resent it you have to question the viability of that body. FIFA have lost the game. I personally hope there are regular protests that cause a good deal of chaos and disruption to send them, and the Brazilian government, a very strong message. And I would love to see visiting fans taking part. I, for sure, will be one of them.