From the captivating and vertigo inducing opening moments of Amir Arsames Escandari’s Pixadores audiences are exposed to the heights of Sao Paulo. Two pixação (or pixadore) artists cling to the railings of a high rise building, a terrifying drop below, with little more than their spray cans and the desire to return home safely to their families. The world of pixação street graffiti has been hidden from international mainstream media over the years, but documentary filmmaker Amir Arsames Escandari, with his debut feature, shadowed one infamous crew of pixadores as they struggle to find recognition and acceptance in the mean world of Sao Paulo’s favelas.
The pixação art movement had kept to the streets of the favelas since the mid to late 40’s and was established in a time of civil unrest that lead to the use of tar to write satirical spins on political slogans. The movement dropped off in the late 70’s only to make a muddled come back a decade later as artists in neglected communities sought to write their crew names and signatures on inaccessible locations. Escandar isn’t interested in the movement’s history though. Instead he favours the portrayal of this rag tag band of anarchic artists as they scale ledges, fences and drainpipes in order to tag cryptic and symbolic tags across the favelas and inner Sao Paulo.
We’re introduced in a slick fashion to four artistic ‘revolutionists’ Ricardo, William, Biscoito, and their leader Cripta Djan, as an intimate voiceover draws us into their world. Escandari’s camera often freely weaves through the treacherous locations the gang traverse, placing the audience alongside these daredevils in the gritty urban locations. Sometimes Escandar is more restrained with his camera; capturing beautiful imagery with the cinematographer Peter Flinkenberg.
The camera at times matches the group’s manic energy as well as their sombre downtime as they flip flop between badass gangster stereotypes and desperate, unemployed young men. It offers a contrast between the cocky attitude of the group and the intimate core of the group’s relationships with their families and friends. Escandar shows the unique, life altering events in these young men’s lives as they battle with the social and economic unrest of their urban surroundings.
At times I was entranced in the black and white imagery leading me to question whether Escandar blurs reality with what appear to be staged scenarios. It isn’t too distracting however. Scenes flow between the men’s working lives and their coordinated attacks across high-rise buildings. It’s an interesting, and more importantly unbiased, juxtaposition that keeps you interested in the group before they travel out of their comfort zone and into Europe for the Berlin Biennale.Escandar doesn’t ask the question of whether these young men should paint graffiti or whether they shouldn’t climb dangerous heights in order to tag a building. Instead he lets them talk for themselves – something that Djan is very good at. “We paint where we want” is the mantra Djan offers after his group tag a respectable German church which is housing a superficial graffiti art exhibition. The resulting situation involves Djan and the curator throwing buckets of paint on one another in one of the movies best and more comical moments. They go where they want and do what they want.
Filmmakers can be drawn grimy authenticity of the favelas to superficially show audiences how hard life is. Thankfully, Escandari has used the setting to show unique portraits of individuals struggling against a wave of inequality that they were born into whilst making their mark.
Escandari has crafted a fascinating and inspiring look into the downtrodden world of pixação artists. While Escandari’s choice of imagery can at times feel inconsistent, the story of the pixação artists grabs your attention from the outset and holds it through the highs and lows of their lives.
In a world where Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop appears to be the only documentary discussing the links between graffiti artists and political messages – Pixadores proudly holds its fist high for the little guy fighting against the system with political graffiti.
Pixadores is being shown as part of DocHouse’s April programme from March 29 to April 1. Find more details on the Dochouse site.