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Leo da pressa
October 28, 2022
Social Justice

People from favelas have to tell their own stories: that is why I started Favela Academy

The voice of Leo de Souza Santos, interviewed by Sara Manisera, FADA Collective

Favela Academy is a basic film script course project for residents of the periphery in Rio de Janeiro. The aim of Favela Academy is to train, to recognize new voices and storytellers and to subvert the logic of access to the resources needed to enter the audiovisual industry. Brazil, the last country to abolish slavery in the Americas, has still wounds opened by the European colonization. Lack of basic services, such as housing, sanitation, education, often affect the descendants of the enslaved. But not only. Lack of access to resources is also present in the cultural world. In Brazil, the favela has always been the setting for films, series and TV soap operas but its stories are told by the same elite that dominates the audiovisual in the country, usually wealthy and white men. 

Favela Academy wants to break this vicious circle, open up new spaces and give the Favela inhabitants the tools to write their own stories. 

Voice Over Foundation has chosen to support Favela Academy on this journey, in partnership with Instituto Guetto, from an idea of the director Leo de Souza Santos.

Interview with Leo de Souza Santos, director and founder of Favela Academy.


Q: Could you introduce yourself? Who are you and what do you do?

A: I'm Leo Santos, I'm a documentarist and screenwriter. I used to work as a graphic designer but then, nine years ago, I decided I wanted to be a filmmaker and make movies. During the pandemic I was doing a lot of online courses and I started thinking about people who couldn't have this opportunity, so I started to think how I could share what I learnt in all those years. So I started reaching out different people who live in favelas, in some peripheries and remote areas of Brazil. 

Q: Why did you decide to address people living in favelas and in other remote areas? 

A: Here in Brazil we have a lot of movies made in favelas but they are not written by people who live there. In general they are rich and white people, who look at the favelas and put their vision in the representation of favelas. So I was wondering how to change the film industry in order to have people from favelas able to tell their own story. I thought it was important not only giving the opportunity to learn to those who doesn't have it but also to make them understand that they have to tell their own story. Favelas is a mix of chaos and beauty, different stories and cultures from different people. Favelas has the potential to give different stories, not only related to crime and violence but there is much more. 

Q: Can you tell us more about who are the participants?

A: People come from different areas of Brazil and from different favelas in Rio; there are some young people but also old ones. I was very surprised about their passion towards cinema and writing. They are very curious and they have very strong stories. I think I learn more with them, we exchange a lot, I give them some techniques but I'm sure I learn more with them than they learn with me. 

Q: Can you tell me how is structured Favela Academy? 

A: The course is structured in 12 classes. The first part is a general overview- principles and techniques, logline, storyline, how to structure a script play, dialogues, genre etc.. I gave them a very simple exercise about where to get the inspiration. I put a picture, a painter, and I told them to write a story and to write a scene. I also told them that for a writer is important to expose him/herself. We analyzed also some movies, for example the opening scene of the Godfather. I taught them also the principles of the famous American screenwriter, Robert McKee, "Show don't tell". And I gave them a basic advice: don't wear headphones. As a scriptwriter, you have to listen to people's conversations. That's how a good scriptwriter does. 

Q: What do you expect from this Academy? What's next?

A: Writing a script takes six months, up to one year so I didn't ask them to submit a screenplay but I asked them to write a story, to write a character profile. This is a good start because it's important to understand who is the character, from where is from, if he is rich or poor, which his religion is. There are a lot of questions to ask in order to build a character. But for me it's very important that this cultural path has started. 

Photo credits: Bando Studio. 

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