Refugees at Rio Carnival: Story of resilience captured in new documentary

By Eduardo Davis

Brasilia, Jun 30 (EFE).- A night of dance and revelry that a score of refugees enjoyed at this year’s Rio Carnival has been captured in a new documentary, a film that pays tribute to the resilience of people who fled persecution and conflict in their homelands to make a fresh start in Brazil.

“Resistencia. La jornada de los refugiados en el Carnaval” (Resistance: Refugee Day at Carnival) was produced by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in April, when 20 migrants granted asylum Brazil paraded in costume with the Salgueiro samba school.

Directed by Betania Furtado, the film focuses on five of those refugees – 47-year-old Venezuelan Ingrid Carmen Bucan, 22-year-old Angolan Filomena Ester, 30-year-old Congolese Yves Abdalla, 36-year-old Moroccan Mohammed Amin and 28-year-old Syrian Adel Bakkour – and provides a glimpse at the new life they have forged in Brazil.

But it mainly explores their involvement in the world of samba and the Rio Carnival, a cultural phenomenon and an event that serves as a vehicle for low-income residents of Rio’s favelas (shantytowns) to express their irreverence and resistance.

The refugees are seen laughing at their initial attempts to dance samba during rehearsals and the steep learning curve they faced with the Salgueiro school, an outfit filled with experienced dancers that took on board this group of neophytes thanks to an agreement with the UNHCR.

Ingrid’s Caribbean roots and the sub-Saharan rhythms familiar to Yves and Filomena allowed them to connect rather easily to samba, but Mohammed and Adel needed quite a bit more practice before moving gracefully to the beat.

All eventually joined the nearly 3,000 people who paraded on April 23 in Rio de Janeiro’s Sambadrome with the rest of the Salgueiro school, which this year celebrated the presence and spirit of resistance of that metropolis’ Afro-descendant population.

“They’re different stories from different countries,” the documentary’s producer, Renata Figueiredo, told Efe.

She said the film explores the lives of people who “went through very difficult things” and whose experiences are reflected in the Salgueiro school’s variety of samba, which encourages an attitude of “resistance” to hardship.

The documentary was presented Wednesday night in Brasilia at a private screening attended by diplomats, representatives of the United Nations in Brazil and many mostly-Venezuelan refugees who have taken up residence in Brazil’s capital.

Among the latter group was Diana Isabel Mundarain, who arrived in Brazil from Venezuela nine months ago and said she identifies with the people depicted in the film.

“It’s not only about Venezuelans. It’s not only our story. It’s the story of lots of people forced to leave their homes, leave their lives and their dreams behind” and “be reborn” in a new place, she told Efe.

According to UNHCR figures, Brazil has granted refugee status to nearly 62,000 foreigners who have fled wars, political persecution and socioeconomic crises in nearly 50 countries.

Most have arrived from Venezuela (78 percent), Syria (7 percent) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (7 percent), three of the countries represented in the Salgueiro school’s procession.

In remarks to Efe, the UNHCR’s spokesman in Brazil, Luiz Fernando Godinho, said the documentary will next be presented at different festivals, including the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival, before being streamed on digital platforms. EFE


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