Reclaiming the Narrative: How Favela Residents Can Use 360 Video To Tell Their Own Stories

“I believe that from the moment that we residents of the favelas started accessing technologies that generate audiovisual content, it became easier to tell the stories that used to be untold because of the racial violence of this country, because of the inequality.” — Raull Santiago, Favela Resident

Exactly one year ago, we initiated our pilot program, My People, Our Stories, to train and equip filmmakers in developing countries in the arena of 360 video storytelling. Our fourth edition of the initiative, which has taken Contrast to Za’atari refugee camp, and South Sudan, takes place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

One of the 360 videos produced from the workshop, by filmmakers Naldinho Lourenço and Linda Marina.

In partnership with Na Pele: Under the Skin VR, a collective of Brazilian filmmakers, we trained ten young filmmakers who are all from favelas — or slums — across Rio de Janeiro, revealing stories untold about those living in the city’s most impoverished areas. From the rise in homelessness, to lack of quality education and black representation in politics, each of their stories explore issues at the forefront of the 2018 Presidential elections in Brazil.

We started this initiative to support aspiring filmmakers and journalists in taking control over their own narratives, and provide access to an international media platform, the need for which was overwhelmingly clear in Rio’s communities — which do not trust outside storytellers.

“When residents of the favela see a local journalist that is covering a story, they trust that the narrative won’t be stereotyped or told in a distorted way. But when there is a journalist from outside there is a relationship of fear and even revolt, as favelas and their residents are almost always depicted as marginalized by the corporate media,” says Thamyra Thâmara, one of the participants in the workshop.

Raull Santiago, another participant of the workshop, agrees, “Usually when a person from outside tries to do some sort of work here, the dialogue, the empathy, the construction of the report is very distant [from the reality].”

While favelas in Rio de Janeiro are notorious for violence (think City of God, which takes you into the drug world of one of Rio’s biggest slums), the media often overlooks other stories, maintaining the narrative of a dark world shadowed by bloodshed, violence,and poverty. Those who are living inside the favelas have not only often been left out of shaping the international image and conversation about life inside the favelas, but also excluded from economic and social opportunities.

“Historically, when we didn’t have accessible technologies for the black, peripheral, indigenous and poorest populations of Brazil, the reporting of our country didn’t show the plurality of experience in Brazil,” says Raull Santiago, who is part of a collective, Papo Reto, which monitors the violence in Rio’s favelas.

While violence is one of the many challenges facing favela residents, Raull speaks to a more truthful way of reflecting reality, “It is not difficult, the stories should be told by those who live where these stories happen, since they already have the trust of the community.”

Trust in the community is deeply important, in an environment where lines demarcate and stratify all aspects of society — from different favelas and city zones to gang territories to civilian and police divides.

With growing access to new storytelling technology, many of the filmmakers see video — and now 360 videos — as an opportunity to show the diversity of experiences within their favelas and communicate the reality of their lives.

“I believe that from the moment that we residents of the favelas started accessing technologies that generate audiovisual content, it became easier to tell other stories that used to be untold because of the racial violence of this country, because of the inequality,” says Raull.

“I think that the 360 technology is super important to tell stories that used to be untold. Improvised football fields inside the favelas, a ‘baile funk,’ a favela street market, a day of work with a moto-taxi driver, there are endless incredible things capture in 360 video. Like a day inside the house of a favela resident when there is an armed conflict, when there is a shooting. From documenting the violence, to art and culture, there are many things about the way of life in favelas that can be filmed in 360 video to make amazing content.”

One of the 360 videos produced from the workshop, filmed by Thamyra Thâmara and Raull Santiago.

There is a world of vibrant and rich stories coming from these favelas, as well as important issues that need to be covered and discussed. By learning how to tell stories in 360, these filmmakers found another medium to report on and document the lives of their community — reclaiming their right to their space and shaping their own narratives.