Tracy Wendt Documentary



Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. August 2016. Published at the Guardian on July 6, 2016.Photos published at the Sun on December 12, 2016.

Much has been written about the crime-infested “no-go” zones that are Brazil’s favelas. But is there nothing more to the lives of their residents? During my month-long stay in several favela communities in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, I discovered individual stories that were more nuanced and hopeful than widely believed. While poverty forces them to live in these notorious districts, the vast majority of residents want to dodge trouble, and many dream to triumph over their hardships.


Beyond its alluring reputation for samba parades, semi-naked beach beauties and football royalty, Brazil is a dangerous place. Violent death occurs at an alarming rate and too often in the favelas.  Even as Rio de Janeiro reveled in the Olympic spotlight in August, the body count continued and frequently during police-gang member shootouts in favelas. Among the dead, Hélio Andrade, an elite soldier of the national security force was shot by a drug-trafficker when he and two comrades simply took a wrong turn into Vila de João, a favela in the gang-controlled Rio housing complex of Maré, not far from Maracanã Stadium, the site of the Olympic opening-closing ceremonies.

Brazil recorded 279,592 intentional killings during a five-year period from January 2011. That surpassed an estimated 256,124 war victims in Syria in the same period, according to a recent Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública study.

A lot of the bloodshed occurs in favelas, which fascinated this Japanese photo-journalist, initially from afar. I wondered: how do people cope amid such seeming lawlessness? A month-long visit to Brazil gave me the chance to find out, helped by a couple of local “fixers” (guide-escort), who took me into some of the reputed “no-go” (for outsiders) communities in Rio and São Paulo.