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Friday, Feb. 24, 2012

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City life: A Brazilian graffiti artist tells his story in Japanese-Lebanese filmmaker Soraya Umewaka's new documentary, "I am Happy." TOMAS REYES

Film focuses on Brazil's favelas


Staff Writer

Brazil, halfway across the globe from here, is known for its colorful Carnival, devotion to soccer, and increasing economic power. Its image, however, is sometimes marred by street violence, drug-trafficking and police corruption.

Soraya Umewaka, a 28-year-old Japanese-Lebanese filmmaker based in Tokyo, has chosen to portray the complexities of Brazil through the everyday routines of the people who live there, particularly those residing in or hailing from favelas, slums where many of the descendants of freed black slaves live.

Umewaka's 2010 documentary "I am Happy" — to be screened at Shibuya's Uplink Cinema this weekend — is an amazing tapestry of words spun by a graffiti artist, a hip-hop dancer, maids, cops and more. Umewaka, who grew up in Tokyo and London, spent a total of eight months in Brazil between 2006 and 2009 to shoot the film.

While interviewing people there, she says her subjects repeatedly used the phrase "I'm happy," even despite the great adversities many of them endured. Through superb editing of those subjects' voices, Umewaka has put a face to the inequality and the cycle of poverty that run deep in Brazilian society — all without her own narration.

"They really have a hard time," Umewaka says. "My interpretation of (their declaration of happiness) is that it's sort of a survival tool, interlinked with that dignity that no one can take away from them."

"I am Happy" will be screened at the Uplink Cinema in Shibuya, Tokyo, on Feb. 25 and 26, and March 18 and 24 (4 p.m., 7 p.m.). Each screening will be followed by a Q&A session with Soraya Umewaka and a special performance of live samba music. Admission is ¥1,500 in advance (¥2,000 at the door). For more information, visit www.streetwitnessproductions.com.


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