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If This Villa Weren’t Mine: New Documentary Tells Story of Vila Autódromo [FILM REVIEW]

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Se Essa Vila Não Fosse Minha (If This Villa Weren’t Mine) is a new documentary produced by Felipe Pena which tells the story of Vila Autódromo and its fight against eviction. The favela is adjacent to the 2016 Olympic Park in Barra da Tijuca, in Rio’s West Zone. The film succeeds in providing a true resident perspective and consists almost entirely of resident interviews and footage within the neighborhood.

The film begins by contrasting footage of Rio’s South Zone and its iconic beaches, quickly shifting to scenes of destruction in Vila Autódromo. Homes are bulldozed as soon as the owner has accepted compensation, leaving the neighborhood with many empty lots of rubble. Residents showed how the destruction of houses has affected the whole neighborhood: often, the houses are attached to each other which results in cracks and damage to houses around the demolished homes.

The residents tell of their struggles with eviction as well as the larger history of the favela. Vila Autódromo was originally a fishing village along the Jacarepaguá Lagoon, but the houses grew in number as construction workers of the race track (autódromo) next door started building their homes in the area as well. Residents were also insistent on how they have always been on the side of the law: Vila Autódromo residents hold titles issued in the 1990s granting them a 99 year lease on the land.

Reasons given by authorities for the removal of Vila Autódromo have varied but residents agree that real estate speculation is at the root of the government’s efforts. As one resident suggests, “It’s the idea that the poor can’t live near the rich. That they can only work in the [rich people’s] kitchen.” Another resident, Valber, remarks that Rio has “sold its land, sold its residents, sold its lives, sold its history–for 15 days. What happens after these 15 days?”

The film also includes footage and perspectives from Parque Carioca, the housing development that many evicted residents have been moved to after accepting the government’s terms. While one resident of Parque Carioca says it is not a bad place, she defends that people know what is best for them individually and condemns the psychological pressure applied by the government on those trying to stay in Vila Autódromo.

Those still in Vila Autódromo expressed pride in having built their own homes and explained what they would lose if they were to move: a sense of community and of safety among other things. One resident pointed out an avocado tree she has growing in her front yard–not a possibility in an apartment complex.

When interviewed about the film, director Felipe Pena was asked if war was too strong a word to describe what is happening in Vila Autódromo right now: “No, no it’s not. Residents of Vila Autódromo have lived in a true climate of war for 40 years now. They live with fear, cornered, blackmailed. The ex-President of the Neighborhood Association was assassinated. The current President fears being killed. War has been declared.”

The film was shown as part of the DocBrazil Festival in Beijing in November, but there is no release date for the general public yet.