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Witness

Good morning, Rocinha

Filmmakers follow one girl's story inside Rio's biggest favela, starting from the time she was born.

Last updated: 26 Jun 2014 11:12
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For the last decade the country has been forging ahead with social reforms and impressive economic progress in preparation for the 2014 World Cup games.

But two decades ago, a very different Brazil welcomed the world to another landmark world event -- the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit. Rosemary Mendonca was born at that same time, and ever since then, filmmakers have been following the story of her life.

Having grown up in grinding poverty, in one of Rio de Janeiro's biggest favelas, the film follows her as she has fought to forge a future more hopeful than the past.

Filmmaker's view

By Bruno Sorrentino

Picture the scene: a young woman dotes on her tiny newborn baby nestled in her lap as others handwash piles of clothes at a waterhole in Rocinha - a favela in Rio. You wouldn't tell from the scene but the mother is desperate and plans to give her baby away.

In 1992, we started following the life of Rosemary Mendonca, one of a dozen babies born at the time and whose lives we planned to follow over the coming years. It was also the year of the UN Rio Earth Summit, attended by almost every world leader. The summit aimed, no less, to 'save the planet' for future generations.

Our on-going film project was ambitious in scope, intending to focus on key aspects of global environment and development, touched on by the Earth Summit, and seen through the unfolding life stories of our featured infants.

The nature of such an unusual and long-term project is that you have no idea how each baby will turn out as an adult.

The production company behind the idea, TVE, held that their lives would somehow trace the progress (or lack of it) towards a better environment, more sustainable development, and greater social equity. That was the original idea. But of course, real life turned out to be much more interesting.

Rosemary was, in the end, not given up for adoption, but life for her mother and siblings has not become easier. Her mother has faced a lifelong struggle to make ends meet, while raising Rosemary and her siblings singlehandedly.

And Rosemary, now 21, has faced severe challenges of her own, growing up in the favela amid domestic violence and abuse. At the age of 16, she gave birth to her son, Gustavo, but the boy's father was extremely violent, and Rosemary was subjected to repeated beatings.

The nature of such an unusual and long-term project is that you have no idea how each baby will turn out as an adult.

The other babies whose lives we started following in 1992, at the same time as Rosemary, were spread across the world. Two of these life stories have already featured in the Witness strand:

In "Kay Kay: The Girl From Guangzhou", we followed Kay Kay and her family, throughout the years of the Chinese economic miracle, in one of China's most dynamic cities, while in "Blood and Land: Erodo's Story", we filmed the life of Erodo and that of his mother, Esther, as he grows up among the nomadic Turkana of northern Kenya. Each of them has had their own unique set of challenges and has found ways to overcome adversity.

And Rosemary also has a story of hope. Today she has a new partner, Maciel, who dotes on her and her now 5-year-old son. Maciel wants to take her away from the favela - and she, too, wants to make it happen - as long as she can exorcise her demons acquired through a lifetime of hard knocks.


Witness can be seen at the following times GMT: Wednesday: 2000; Thursday: 1200; Friday: 0100; Saturday: 0600.

Click here  for more  Witness  films.

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