A short observational documentary about a theatre company in Brazil that tells a universal story of the people struggling and those thriving in a difficult and poverty-stricken environment. This is Aliki Tsakoumi’s documentary Luiz’s Crackland.
The opening scene of Luiz’s Crackland sees a small child trying to pick lemons and that made me think of the famous saying, ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade’. It is a familiar phrase used to encourage optimism and a positive “can-do” attitude in the face of adversity or misfortune. The lemons suggest sourness or difficulty in life, while the making of lemonade is turning them into something positive or desirable.
In comparison to the hardship suffered by the people we meet during this 16-minute documentary this phrase may seem a little trite, but it perfectly encapsulates the message in director Tsakoumi’s film. The characters in Luiz’s Crackland have all been given lemons and the fascination of the film is watching how each one of them makes their own lemonade.
Set in Sao Paulo, the opening scenes of family life fade into the Container Theatre Company, where a community group is busily working away on the upkeep and maintenance of the space. Here we meet 22-year-old Luiz who, after becoming homeless, served time in prison, and then managed to get his life back on track by finding work as a cleaner before returning to his studies. After spending time studying sociology and learning everything about his society and environment, he became a Social Educator and Conflict Mediator. This journey led to him starting The Container Theatre project, in which he uses art as a way to help the social mobility of local people who have serious issues.
As our director noted in her correspondence to us, it has been scientifically proven that integration and connection is the most efficient way to deal with addiction and yet society tends to isolate drug addicts and those people without homes. Luiz uses the theatre as a community hub that is open to anybody and everybody who wants to take part. Users include people with disabilities, drug addicts, and those who are homeless. Luiz’s goal is to make the arts more accessible to those who do not have access to them and to create a safe place in which the community can take shelter from their violent and dangerous surroundings. In short, he wants to make a difference to their lives.
Tsakoumi’s direction is sharp and along with her editor Dimitris Manousiakis, she creates a documentary with a surprising amount of tension. The quieter community moments contrast dramatically with the shots of rioters in the street and petty criminality. She also manages to get some stunning footage, capturing scenes that show the local police force being extremely violent, confrontational, and very heavy-handed. While a lot of this footage shocks, what is missing is more focus on the individuals of the theatre company, there are moments where nothing much happens, while the different characters we see are few and their talking heads style interviews are brief.
Towards the end, the documentary seems to quietly fade away, finishing with a whimper rather than a bang. A definitive ending with a triumphant performance would have hammered home the point that if you want to create a more equal society then art is extremely important. Tsakoumi is definitely a director to look out for as Luiz’s Crackland is a fine film, with a fantastic message from a good person, but what we needed to see on screen was some more lemonade.