The life of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas is Cavi Borges’ passion and the subject of his cinematic art. But in a departure from classic films about Rio’s notorious slums such as Cidade de Deus (2002) or Tropa de Elite (2007), Borges portrays the human, personal experiences of growing up in the favelas. Focusing on the common experiences of youth, yearning and maturation, Borges’ movies bring audiences closer to the people who live in this environment by avoiding sensationalism and caricature.
In the most successful film of his still-short career, A Distração de Ivan (Ivan’s Diversion), produced last year, Borges portrays the Brazilian neighborhood of Brás de Pina to his audience through the eyes of Ivan, an 11-year-old boy. A polished and elegant coming-of-age story, it contains none of the brutal violence that characterizes other film depictions of favela life.
The movie went international this spring when it was selected for Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival. It was the sixth film made by the 35-year-old director from Rio. “I work with poor communities,” Borges explains, “and I try to build simple and realistic stories around them.” Those relationships, as well as partnerships with other directors and filmmakers, are an important part of how Borges sees himself as a filmmaker.
In Ivan’s Diversion, we follow the title character (based on the childhood of codirector Gustavo Melo) through the loneliness of an afternoon spent behind the walls of his grandmother’s courtyard. The story builds with its award-winning original score, an honor received at the 2009 Cine PE Festival do Audiovisual in Recife, to a peak both figurative and literal, with Ivan perched on his bicycle high above the city, finding his own escape as dusk falls.
Borges’ path to a promising career in moviemaking was not direct. In the mid 1990s, he was preparing to compete in judo for Brazil at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta when he suffered a training injury. His Olympic ambitions dashed, Borges opened a video store specializing in art movies, which rapidly developed a following among Rio film-lovers. In a replay of the career of U.S. filmmaker Quentin Tarantino and French auteur directors, he transformed himself from film connoisseur to film-maker, with help along the way from local directors.
Of the more than 2,000 films considered for Critics’ Week at Cannes, Ivan was one of only seven selected for screening. Borges still does not believe the turn of fortune. “I always send my work to these kinds of festivals, but I never believed I could actually be chosen,” he says. Growing international exposure has done more than simply boost his career. According to Borges, it has given world audiences a new way of looking at Brazil. “Even though the story takes place in Brazil, I believe people anywhere can relate to it through their own memories of childhood,” he says.
Meanwhile, Borges hasn’t forgotten his roots. His old video store, Cavídeo, has grown into a production company. In a digital era, when moviemaking is more accessible to those without deep pockets, there’s no shortage of new projects. Currently, Cavídeo has four new short films and three full-length films ready for release.