Favela Rising, directed by Jeff Zimbalist, is set in the grim reality of the picturesque slums overlooking Rio de Janeiro. The documentary tells the story of a place, a man, a moment, a movement, and, ultimately, a miracle. The place is Vigario Geral, the worst of Rio's favelas, or slums, where barbaric drug armies battling corrupt police were the norm a decade ago, and drug dealers were the favela's only role models. The man is Anderson Sa, a Vigario native who saw his first deadly street violence at age 10. The moment is August 1993, when cops massacred 21 innocent favela residents in response to the killing of four of their own by a Vigario drug lord. The movement is AfroReggae, a nonviolent flowering of Afro-Brazilian culture through dance, theater and popular percussion-fueled reggae bands, which Sa and some of his contemporaries founded in response to the massacre. "Music is an instrument of change," says one of the AfroReggae founders. The drug lords even began to send their own kids to the AfroReggae programs. In response to the police killing of one of their own, Grupo AfroReggae made a video showing police brutality to a throbbing beat, but eventually they created a program that reached out to the cops, too, who were encouraged to form their own theater group and band. Miraculous as that seems, that's not the only miracle in this miracle of a film.
Jeff Zimbalist is currently editor of Buddy: An American Story, a documentary on jailed Providence, Rhode Island Mayor Buddy Cianci, as well as assistant director on Turned Out: Sexual Assault Behind Bars. He has codirected and edited the documentaries Vibrant Body and Llama Lake. In 2002, Zimbalist edited On the Killing Floor, a documentary about a New Jersey slaughterhouse. In 2001 he directed, shot, and edited Buenas Intenciones, a documentary on youth volunteerism in rural Latin America. He has edited and supervise-edited 12 short narrative productions. He has provided media consulting services to the UNDP Poverty Alleviation Program's Media Project in Katmandu. He is a current faculty member at both the New York Film Academy (where he formerly directed the post-production department) and at the Maine Photographic Workshops. Zimbalist's production company, Our Lunacies Harmonize Productions, has produced educational and promotional films for a number of diverse clients. Matt Mochary is a new filmmaker. Favela Rising is his first piece of co-direction and production. Before Favela Rising, Mochary was a Partner at Spectrum Equity Investors, the founder and Chairman of Totality Corporation, the Chairman of AEKus Properties, and the founder of The Mochary Foundation, a charitable organization that promotes public education (www.mochary.org). Mochary received his B.A. from Yale University and his M.B.A. from Kellogg at Northwestern University.