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Student documentary helping Brazilians out of poverty

October 26, 2005

Photo of a woman who is one of the Salao do Encontro participants preparing lettuce for a community mealNão falo português, or "I don't speak Portuguese," followed by hand gestures is not an ideal way to communicate. But neither the language barrier nor technical difficulties stood in the way of the nine students and one professor who made two documentaries in Brazil this summer.

The videos promote Salao do Encontro, a Brazilian organization that provides housing, jobs, education, health care and skills training to families in the impoverished city of Betim. The students hope the videos will encourage corporations and other organizations to support Salao do Encontro so they can continue to help people in need.

A free screening of both documentaries will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27, in Studio 1 of the Creative Arts building. Brazilian refreshments will be served. The students who made the documentary will be available to answer questions and accept clothing donations for Salao do Encontro.

The project was a community service requirement for Media in Community, a Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts class taught by Professor Betsy Blosser. Graduate student and class teaching assistant Vanessa Pinheiro, whose parents are from Brazil and are familiar with Salao do Encontro, inspired the project.

Students prepared during the spring semester by learning about Brazil's culture and language and Salao do Encontro's mission. Although they took a two-week Portuguese course before the trip, the language barrier remained the group's biggest challenge. Students relied heavily on Pinheiro, several other interpreters and hand gestures to communicate with the people they recorded.

The students set out for Brazil in June and stayed in a guest house on site. None had ever done video production outside of the United States, and most had never been out of the country. "They did an amazing job with the adversity we faced," graduate student and production supervisor Ryan Stouffer said. "[We] have an excellent project on our hands."

One documentary, which is in Portuguese and aimed toward Brazilians, aims to gain corporate partnerships and increase sales of arts and crafts produced at Salao do Encontro. It shows how the people at the organization use natural resources to feed their community. The other documentary, shot in English for an international audience, follows the everyday life of one family at Salao do Encontro.

Salao do Encontro is a small community within Betim. Families pay reduced rent to live in duplex-style apartments on the organization's grounds. Adults receive three meals a day and are taught such artisanship skills as weaving, ceramics and furniture-making. They are paid minimum wage to sell their products while their children attend the community school or day care.

Once families save enough money, they can move out of the organization’s apartments and build a house of their own. This housing and work program started about five years ago. So far, two families have moved out to live independently.

Technical problems with equipment complicated production. Both camcorders broke and a computer cable needed to be replaced during recording.

"Both technical difficulties turned out to be an eye-opening experience," Pinheiro said. "It exposed the students to real-life problem-solving challenges and to the kindness of the Brazilian people."

Employees at an Apple store, a video producer and a technician came to the small, isolated town to help at no charge.

"Their warmth and generosity was so moving," Pinheiro said. "The Brazilian children loved playing, singing, hugging, kissing and spending time with the SFSU students." The children were especially eager to be in front of the camera, Blosser added.

--Student Writer Lisa Rau with Matt Itelson
Photo: courtesy of Betsy Blosser


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Last modified October 26, 2005 by University Communications