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Joshua Brunsting

March 12th, 2012

Brazil is a beautiful place.  Gorgeous women, stunning landscapes, viscerally effecting aesthetic.  However, it’s also a grim place run rampant by drugs, crime, and in the case of the subjects in BAY OF ALL SAINTS, poverty.

Set in Bahia, Brazil, the film follows families located in palafitas, best described as a series of haphazardly put together shacks built on wooden stilts raised out of a garbage filled ocean bay.  Promised a new collection of housing projects, the film looks into the lives of these families over a six year fight to find a place to call home, and more so a devastating meditation of poverty and its impact on the urban landscape.

While it may be odd to say, director Annie Eastman is easily the film’s biggest star.  Yes, the narrative is inherently enthralling.  Each of these families, spearheaded by intensely strong women who simply find themselves in the middle of a poverty stricken world, has an intriguing story, and each person we meet along the way really adds a great deal of human interest and emotional depth. However, it’s Eastman whose  hand is at the forefront here.

Featuring fantastic cinematography, Eastman’s camera is an introspective one, playing as a glorified fly on the wall, giving us a purely and viscerally intimate look into what is a problem that may be extrapolated in Bahia, but is one that affects literally every community on this planet.  Brazil isn’t the only country with single mothers and broken families, and it is Eastman’s lyrical filmmaking style that really allows these otherwise esoteric narratives to become something more.  Something bigger.  Something greater.  Something world spanning.  Something, well, universal.

However, the film isn’t without flaw.  A tad over long, the film’s style is not for everyone.  Featuring only a handful of true interviews, the film follows along in an aesthetic trail joined side by side with fellow SXSW premiere TCHOUPITOULAS, focusing more on mood and atmosphere than pure narrative, but where that film thrives in its experimental stylings and free moving camera, this film feels a bit stilted and a tad bit pensive.

Overall, BAY OF ALL SAINTS is an eye opening documentary that is far from cryptic in its focus. Looking at poverty, families and the effect of the former on both the latter and society in general, BAY is a film that is both artistically affecting, and also narratively enthralling.  A tad over long and seemingly pulling the occasional punch here and there, the film may not set the film world on fire, nor will it likely take Austin by storm, but what it does do is show the viewer that poverty is something that not only effects people around the globe, but finds its roots in many of the inner cities here stateside.  Literally following families built from the garbage filled ground up, BAY is a wonderfully powerful little non-fiction gem, in spite of itself.  Do not overlook this absolute gem of an independent documentary.  It’s one that you won’t soon forget.

Grade: B

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