Manifesto for a Cinema Quijotesco Manifesto for a Cinema Quijotesco
Poptimism

Manifesto for a Cinema Quijotesco

by Kurt Shaw

September 21, 2012

When I started teaching movie-making to kids on the margins of society, I had dreamed of a place like the favela of Arruda: a slum in the midst of a gang war, where I could help children denounce injustice. For the previous two weeks, fifteen kids, my wife, and I had been struggling to write a script "to tell the truth about our community" as one of the young filmmakers put it.  Finally, we worked out the climax: One of the main characters would be shot because he was in debt to the crackhouse. The scene was dramatic, it would make for powerful film… but it didn't feel quite right.  
 Mayra didn't need to tell the truth. She didn't filter her story for some imagined audience in Los Angeles or Paris. Because of that, anyone who sees the film will starts to feel like they know her.  Not that they know about her, but that they know her.

Don Quijote marks something wonderful in the history of literature, because the facts of his life matter not at all. As a poor minor noble who reads a lot, his story touches no one. Instead, we love Don Quijote's fantasy, the inner life that suddenly and unexpectedly spurts out into the world, making us laugh and cringe and think. I don't relate to him as an object of study, but strangely enough, as a friend.

When we think about people who really matter to us, knowing about them isn’t all that important.  Coming to care for someone means learning what she wants, what he dreams, what they fear and hope for. Mayra’s wandering fantasy brings us into a relationship with her, forces us to see her as another subject, a person whose dreams and way of thinking we barely comprehend, but which we want to know better.  She’s a four-year-old Indian Quijote deep in the Amazon jungle.

Read these words, then, as a polemic against cinema verité and a manifesto for a cinema quijotesco, for movies where people from the margins can put their fantasies, and not just their sad truths, onto film. Movies about violence and misery, however well-intentioned, make kids think that only those stories matter, closing down other dreams that they could have for their lives. But fantasies open up their future... and might even help the audience see a world in which they can increasingly relate to those they may have never met as friends.

 

Images courtesy of Allan da Silva Carvalho (4 years old), and Rita de Cácia Oenning da Silva

Kurt Shaw More Info

After working with homeless teenagers in New York City, Kurt Shaw created Shine a Light, a network of more than 300 nonprofits serving marginalized youths around Latin America. He lives in Brazil.
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Manifesto for a Cinema Quijotesco