The Image on the Fringes of Dignity

in 5th Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival

by Pamela Biénzobas

“If tomorrow I come knocking at your door, you won’t open up for me. Today, yes. But not tomorrow.” By choosing these words for closing his documentary “À Margem da Imagem” (in English, “On the Fringes of São Paulo: Homeless”; literally, ‘on the fringes of the image’), Brazilian filmmaker Evaldo Mocarzel wraps up with one of the most interesting and bravest ideas on which his film –best documentary at this year’s Gramado Film Festival- is built.

The words are spoken by one of the many homeless that participated in the documentary, and summarize an undeniable fact: visual arts –and artists- inevitably exploit the poor when picking them as their topic, establishing a relationship that is necessarily fleeting and based on the creator’s profit. Mocarzel does not try to deny nor disguise it. On the contrary, he chooses to confront it without hypocrisy, accepting that even with the best intentions and trying to respect the other’s dignity, not even he is free from it.

Because he too will end up selling the image, the experiences and the aspirations of the homeless. Because although the crew do not try to embellish the situation nor do they fall into an aesthetic of misery, they are a group coming from one world to visit a completely different one, capture it in images and then leave it go on with their lives. Yes, today this man is their friend. Today they even depend on him, on his agreement to participate and to reveal his life before the camera, on the ideas he is able to express. But tomorrow he will just be one more of the many –too many- homeless people of São Paulo and elsewhere, uncomfortable, unwanted, perhaps even threatening to those who inhabit a totally separate universe –one where roofs, beds and bathrooms, where dignity and privacy are taken for granted. Those such as the authorities and the rich businesspeople, but also the filmmakers, spectators, festival programmers and critics as well.

The documentary’s main limitation is that this long version presented at the Rio de Janeiro Film Festival integrates this discussion into a rather conventional documentary on the homeless, creating an interesting counterpoint but weakening the ideas during the film’s development. (There seems to be another short version that only concentrates on the subject of image exploitation.) The difference between the original and the English titles (the latter directly underlining poverty) reveals this double issue.

Nevertheless, in a moment and in a continent where socially aware creators and theorists (and opportunist ones as well) will not hesitate in exposing poverty for one purpose or another, “À Margem da Imagem” puts forward a necessary reflection for all of us who live from image trafficking.