When well made, documentaries can offer a window into the Other. They take us on a journey showing us places and people we wouldn’t otherwise meet. Enmeshed into realities of the characters that these films depict, albeit always from a safe distance, we start to understand their worries, dreams and motivations. In the contemporary world of radical right wing politics, documentaries might be what holds the keys to social inclusion.
Paradoxically, however, films depicting realities other than the ones of the global North, often end up confirming the stereotypes they tried to refute. Some academics (see Halle*) even see such films as a gentler form of neo-colonial activity in the transnational era. At times, such films run a risk of perpetuating the cycle of Orientalism, offering Euro-American audience stories that they want to hear.
In the sea of audio-visual media about Brazilian favelas, police corruption and political turmoil, Alice Riff’s Elections comes as a breath of fresh air. Situated in a high-school in Sao Paulo during student government elections, we discover a cohort of engaging young people eager to create a better reality for everyone. In this specific instance, this means listening to music during school breaks (because who wouldn’t want some funke to break their afternoon slump), but tomorrow it will mean voting for a leader that will not set the Amazon on fire. From race, gender and LGBTQ+ rights to talks about sex and police brutality, these teenagers show us that which many politicians might have forgotten: politics is about people.
Beautiful, touching, hilarious and brilliant, Elections depicts a fresh image of Brazil; of a Brazil which is not only one thing but multiple contradictory things simultaneously; of a country led by a far-right leader with no regard for human rights but also a country in which a fifteen-year-old, when faced with slut-shaming, defends her friends with these words: “And then I said to him, well she just likes to have sex. And he said, well she must like it a lot. And I said, well do you like to have sex? He said, of course. So I said, well why in hell is she not allowed to like it then too?”
*Halle, R., (2010). Offering Tales They Want to Hear: Transnational European Film Funding as Neo-Orientalism in Global Art Cinema (eds) Galt, R. and Shoonover, K. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.303-219.