Apples and Snakes’ Programme Coordinator Daniela Paolucci travels to Brazil to take part in the Literary Festival – FLUPP!
I have been in Brazil for a week and it has gone really fast. When I was told by the British Council that I was invited to participate in their cultural programme, Transform and take part in FLUPP (Literary Festival of the UPP), I could not quite believe that I would be in Rio de Janeiro for 3 weeks.
On my flight to Rio I was reading The Guardian where I found a two page article about the favelas in Rio and I was quite disappointed not to find any mention of FLUPP. It was all about the favelas as a tourist attraction, which I find quite strange in a way, but if this means that the favelas start to became visible and less invisible or off limits, maybe it’s a good thing and with time, it will be good for FLUPP as well.
At the airport I am greeted by Julio Ludemir, one of the two Directors of FLUPP. The day was gloriously sunny, and I quickly forgot my 13 hour flight and as we drive to the hotel, Julio’s enthusiasm is contagious. We started talking straight away and when I ask him about FLUPP, his response lingers in my mind : “I wake up every morning, I put a big smile on my face and Igo to war. Everyday there is a problem to resolve!”.
I certainly like his spirit and this gives me some idea of the difficulties that he and his team must encounter everyday to make this festival a success and, make it accessible to everyone. This is the first literature festival to take place in the favelas, trying to bring together the periphery and the establishment. From the conversation with Julio, it is clear that the main challenge of this festival is to bringpeople that are not from the favelas to take part – there are still prejudices which are due to their history of poverty, drug related crime and gang rivalry.
Julio truly believes that “the favelas are Rio” and it is his personal mission and battle to make the establishment see this as well. When I go with Julio to the Complexo do Alemão, together with Henderson Mullin, from Writing East Midlands, part of the same British council residency I am in, it seems pretty clear to both of us, what Julio means when he says that “the favelas are Rio”. We took the Teleférico do Alemão, a six station cable car that enables you to watch from above, one favela after another – you can’t see where each ends and the next begin. The city centre, the downtown, compared to the favelas, is so small, almost non-existent. All of this is just breathtaking, its hard to describe.
FLUPP has curated a photographic exhibition in the cable car station about the history of the favelas and another to celebrate two well known Brazilian writers, Aloísio de Azevedo, who wrote “O Cortiço” which is about the houses for poor people and workers before the favelas and Raul Pompeia, who wrote “O Atheneu“, about education before and after the Republic years. It is fascinating seeing the local people taking pictures or looking at the exhibition, fascinated by their own history. The exhibition is strategically placed: just outside the cable car exit, people need to go through it to get out. Julio explains that he wanted to “invade their space” in order to get their attention and I see that he has succeeded.
It strikes me that FLUPP is the literally the “cable car” for literature: it brings literature to the community and into the favelas and bri
ngs the favelas’ literature to the establishment.
We find out about FLUPP Pensa, a programme of creative writing workshops held once a month in different favelas. It involves a group of 50 writers from the favelas who have been put in contact with different authors from the establishment, specialising in poetry, short stories and novel writing.
During the workshop, they are introduced to different styles of writing, given tips on their work and challenged with exercises to work on during the period of time between one workshop and another. Last Saturday I went to the Biblioteca Parque da Rocinha, where a lunch was being held for the participants of this year’s FLUPP Pensa programme. The atmosphere was buzzing with excitement, since in the afternoon the “winners” of this year would be announced. A selection of 20 authors were chosen for the poetry section, another 20 for short stories and 1 for a novel. Their work will be printed in an anthology that will be presented later in December. What really surprised me was not only the diversity of the participants and mix of genders, but mostly the difference in age. This is something rarely seen in England.
We create specific inter- generational projects, but here the different age groups come together and melt organically. I have noticed this in other contexts as well: if you go out in the evening in a bar to have a drink, you see all different ages mixing together…how refreshing!
It was a very moving celebration, you could see the support shown by the participants for each others work and even those who were not selected were winners as well because they took part in FLUPP and they have now become part of a new community, a literary community that will continue after FLUPP Pensa.
It was incredible the support and the gratitude shown towards Julio Ludemir and Ecio Salles, the FLUPP directors, as well as their entire team, for the work done within the community and for having created such an amazing opportunity for them all. The room was full of participants, the writing mentors and children from another community project brought to sing in honour of the two directors.
It is moments like these which make you forget all the difficulties encountered and make your job worth while. I believe the FLUPP team can be truly proud of what they have achieved.
Rocinha was the first favela that I visited and I was overwhelmed by its sheer size, how narrow the streets are and how packed it is with people, motorcycles, cabs, buses going up and down in a continuous flow. It’s another world, but at the same time, some part of it resembles houses I have seen in North Africa (Egypt, Lybia or Algeria), but it could be Italy as well, like some part of Naples, or council estates in London.
But then, guided by Rodrigo Walker, a Rio de Janeiro Producer (and for me guardian angel, translator and the most well known man in Rio, since everywhere we go he meets someone that he knows!), we goto Vidigal, another favela, which has a spectacular view over Leblon beach and it has a very calming atmosphere as it is surrounded by an urban forest. Here we are invited to take part in a birthday party at one of Rodrigo’s friends houses. So as soon the gate is open, I discover a group of houses all linked together, all the family live here, one next to another. Here in Brazil, every time you think something and make an assumption, you soon realise that it is the opposite of what you were expecting.
You need to be constantly ready to be surprised!
Everyone is so welcoming at the party and even if not everyone speaks English and I don’t speak Portuguese, there is always a way to communicate and my Italian comes in handy! Everyone loves beer here, I don’t drink much myself, but I have become quite fond of Guaraná, I’ve no idea what it is, but the children drink it!
I have noticed that there are no posters, flyers or programmes for FLUPP. It’s clear to me that the marketing here is all done by the internet, word of mouth and above all face to face with the people, organisations, schools and so on that the directors are aiming to attract to this years festival. As Julio put it “I go and talk directly in the streets“.
I can see how this works having participated in a few of these face to face talks. On my second day in Rio, I was invited to visit 3 schools, two classes of 14+ and one for 8+ years olds, in the favela of Cidade de Deus (City of God). Here two actresses read from three different books that will be presented at the Festival. For the older ones the books were of poetry, while the younger kids heard stories, both very engaging and funny. It was quite interesting to notice that at the beginning the majority of the older children all showed little interest and kept their distance. Probably in their minds this was “another school activity they needed to take part in“, but then, they became more engaged and curious about the poems. And when at the end they were asked if they wanted to try and write their own poems with some magnetic words on a little board, they all jumped at the idea with enthusiasm and started working in groups. After ten minutes they were all queuing up to have their poem read aloud by the two actresses. Those classes will read and work on one of the three books read in class and then they will come to FLUPP in order to meet the author and be able to ask questions.
This is very similar to the work we do at Apples and Snakes, with PIES (Poetry In Education Scheme), we send a poet into a school to perform in their morning assembly and then run one or two workshop with selected classes to give a different flavour of what is poetry and how it can be used in the classroom. It is all about changing the perception of young people towards poetry and literature and engaging with them.
I am really impressed with how much active festival promotion is happening only two weeks before the festival starts. One evening I am with Julio at FACHA (Faculdades Integradas Helio Alonso – the University for journalism, advertising, audiovisual, law and tourism), where he has been invited as part of the communication week to talk about the ideas behind the festival and the programme. Julio is extremely charismatic and passionate when he talks about the Festival and it’s almost impossible to take your eyes off him. A lot of students ask him questions and at the end of his presentation, they all gather around him to ask more questions and to show their support and affection for him. He is like hero to them, a role model. Julio is worried that because of the prejudices towards the favelas, many students would not participate in the festival. Both directors wants to increase the student’s participation from last year.
So two days later I am with Ecio Sellas, at UERJ (Univesidade do Estado do Rio De Janeiro) and he tells me that he has a long list of other universities to visit during the next few days. We are in the literature department, and we visit two classes. Ecio very quickly captures the students attention with eye contact and his warm and friendly approach. He shares the same passion of Julio when he talks about FLUPP. Once he’s explained the context, he explains that there is a competition for students to sign up to if they want to participate – if they take part in the festival, or bring a friend to attend, as well as write an article about their experience of FLUPP in general or any event they have found particularly interesting, they will gain points. Whoever gains the most points, will win a week in Paris!
Ecio explains the whole process with jokes, involving the students in the presentation, asking their names and what they are studying and I’m certain their attention span has increased as soon as the prize has been mentioned to them.
I asked myself how many of those students will participate because of the trip to Paris, but if this means that they will discover a world different from their own, a new interest in literature and the literature from the favelas, I believe it is worthwhile.
I have also attended a meeting of the FIA (Fundação para Infância e Adolescência), which looks after the young people in the region trying to make a bridge between them and a potential employers or offering them training. Julio and Raphael, one of the young writers of the FLUPP Pensa programme, are there to talk about the festival and try to involve the young people that FIA are in contact with.
It is unfortunate that none of the young people are present at this conference, to express their point of view and what they would be interested in doing. It is always the “top” that thinks what is good for them, without asking them. Julio tells me that the majority of the young people are offered jobs where they are treated as “office boys“, they are just given simple tasks to do, that no one else in a office wants to do, for example making coffee or going to the post office, but no real training is offered. I wonder if some of them could be trained by FLUPP in the future?
And last, but not certainly not least, I meet some representatives of the spoken word scene in Rio. How great to be in a small flat, surrounded by young people that have just finished running a workshop in downtown Rio about the use of a microphone, creating a presence on stage, the importance of the rhythm during the performance …all this would be at home in one of Apples and Snakes Masterclasses! What a pity that I was not able to attend their workshop, but what a privilege to speak with them while they tell me about their project and what they do.
I also meet one of the two founders of the Batalha do Real, the first duel of rhymes created in Brazil, ten years ago. The Batalha do Real or the Battle of Real, refers to their currency, the Real, since in order to participate, everyone needs to give one Real to the organisers and the winner will gain all the collected Real fro
m the evening. This a great opportunity for new talent to emerge and gain visibility. The audience is the main measure of their success, since the winners are chosen by popular vote. Usually the Batalha do Real take places near the Arcos do Lapa, attracting a vast audience, but the next Batalha will happen in the FLUPP festival, I just can’t wait!
To find out more about Transform and FLUPP click here here or you can visit the festival website here