Seeking Funds, Seeking Hope

Robbinsville filmmakers plan a documentary about children in Brazilian favelas.

By: Josh Appelbaum
   An Emmy Award-winning television news editor from Robbinsville is planning to shoot a documentary film focusing on human rights and the children living in Brazil’s favelas, or ghettos.
   Kimberly Switzgable, a freelance editor who’s worked with ABC News, Reuters and BBC, is raising funds for her second film, City of Hope: A Children’s Story, which seeks to capture the grim realities and glimmers of hope for the often homeless street children of Brazil’s cities, who are continuously victims of violence and abuse.
   Ms. Switzgable, who has traveled extensively through the South American nation, plans to shoot on location in Campinas, Sao Paolo, and Rio de Janiero, where she says children are often killed in murder-for-hire plots perpetrated by local business-owners and off-duty police. "’20/20′ did a piece on the murder of street kids (in the mid-’90s)," Ms. Switzgable says. "I knew I had to do something about this story."
   Ms. Switzgable made Dressage: The Horse With Airs, which documents the relatively obscure equestrian event and was a finalist at the New York Festival in 1995. In 1997, she received an Emmy Award for editing Diana, Princess of Wales for ABC. Her new film is a more ambitious, international project.
   In the high-definition digital video, Ms. Switzgable plans to profile City of Youth schools, which are safe havens for street children in Brazilian cities. Founded by American Phillip Smith, City of Youth schools provide shelter and academic and vocational training for children in high-risk situations with few other viable alternatives.
   Ms. Switzgable first visited Mr. Smith and the City of Youth schools in Campinas and Vitoria in 1998. She says the schools provide a place where the children can escape a life of prostitution, gang violence and poverty. "The government (in Brazil) unfortunately doesn’t have the type of social programs we have in the U.S.," Ms. Switzgable says. "There is a lot of wealth in the country, but it isn’t spread around."
   Although the film project is based in the United States, John Scheifele, City of Hope’s executive producer and Ms. Switzgable’s live-in partner, says the film will employ journalists, activists, politicians and, most importantly, children to tell the story.
   "This is definitely a national problem… nobody is trying to cover this up," he says. "The key is to acknowledge it and shed light on the fact that there is a fix in place, including Phillip Smith’s outfit."
   While Ms. Switzgable plans to interview investigative reporters from the country’s Globo television news service, Mr. Scheifele insists their film isn’t meant to embarrass or impugn Brazil’s government or its citizens. She says the news media in Brazil have been leading the charge to uncover the stories of murder-for-hire in the favelas and have been raising awareness of the underlying issues of abject poverty and lack of access to various resources. "They’re aggressive and they want to know what’s going on in their country," she says. "The Brazilian media is today what our media was 25 years ago."
   But Ms. Switzgable says a policy shift among Brazilian legislators has meant more funding for aid organizations like Mr. Smith’s to get street children into educational or vocational programs. She admits the challenge of helping all those affected by crime and abuse in the favelas seems insurmountable, but says the City of Youth institutions are already having a positive effect in the communities they serve.
   "These kids are usually sent to City of Youth by court order after (the kids) have gotten in trouble with the law," Ms. Switzgable says. "The school then certifies them to become plumbers, electricians, carpenters, welders, auto mechanics or beauticians. And there’s about a 90 percent success rate at placing these kids in the work force."
   City of Hope will balance the harsh realities of life in the favelas, including child prostitution, drug dealing and death, with what she describes as a glimmer of hope: the "music of despair" played on drums by the slums’ inhabitants, Ms. Switzgable says.
   "During the week, you’ll see thousands of kids coming down the mountain with their drums, practicing for Carneval," Ms. Switzgable says. "It rocks you when you see it. Even if you don’t have rhythm, (Brazil) will give you rhythm."
   Mr. Scheifele says the film will seek to capture what is a uniquely Brazilian aesthetic, especially as it relates to its peoples’ colorful clothes, African-infused culture and even its gene pool. "You talk about the U.S. as a melting pot, but that is what you really have in Brazil. You’ll see someone in dread locks with green eyes," he says of the blending of European, African and indigenous cultures.
   The project is Mr. Scheifele’s first film project, having previously worked in business management and executive leadership in high technology industries. Semi-retired, he is a member of the Gerson Lehrman Group’s Council of Communications Advisors and also is an advisor to the Toronto, Ontario-based think tank Brain Mass Inc. Ms. Switzgable says his management experience has been helpful in the fundraising process. Capriole, the project’s production company, is a not-for-profit outfit, and is seeking money from the Carnegie and Ford endowments as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and state arts endowments in the U.S.
   Ms. Switzgable and Mr. Scheifele need about $500,000 for their production, and also are seeking support from Brazilian sources in the way of in-kind donations of goods and services, as much of the cost of the production will be in the way of travel expenses, lodging and equipment. "We’re really targeting the government and the people in-country," Mr. Scheifele says. "We want to get those who are interested (in the issues of the film) involved and be able to nail down some local businesses for funding."
   Ms. Switzgable plans to shoot the film over a four- to six-week period once funding is secured. She says the ultimate goal of the project is to give the children living in the favelas and those who are succeeding thanks to education and training at City of Youth a voice.
   "They realize City of Youth is a gift of hope," she says. "They know they’re going to make it through their childhood and into adulthood. These kids also know that they won’t last long if they stay out on the streets."
For information on City of Hope: A Children’s Story, call (609) 371-4648. Capriole Productions on the Web: City of Youth on the Web: