nullYou can only imagine the stench from the sewage and garbage infested waters below their homes. There are hundreds of impoverished families, most of them African descendants, living in unstable shacks supported by stilts in the region of Palafitas in the Brazilian bay.

The powerful Bay Of All Saints documentary follows the lives of three single mothers: Dona Maria, a trash picker and grandmother raising 16 children and grandchildren under unsanitary conditions, Jesus, a laundry-washer who lives with her pregnant 15-year old daughter, who wishes a well-to-do prince charming will rescue them from the bay, and Geni, an activist and community organizer in the efforts to expedite the local government’s project to build safe housing.

Their stories are facilitated through the community refrigerator repairman and their confidant Narato, who frequents their homes and bears witness to their dire circumstances.

For several years, the local government has promised these residents permanent housing inland.

Palafitas is disregarded by government agencies. There are several scenes of politicians engaging in campaigns. In one key scene, a political campaign puts on a show for the residents and hands out food. We see Palafitas residents, including children, dangerously and desperately pressing and shoving each other to receive the goods while local officials manhandle the crowds; meanwhile the political campaign and lively speeches go on, infused with music and dancing. The juxtaposition is shocking.

Filmmakers Annie Eastman, Diane Markrow and Davis Coombe filmed the documentary from 2005 until 2011. They document the subjects’ struggle for survival as they raise their families under these miserable conditions, which deteriorate after the residents cease buying the shacks’ foundation stilts. They believe the promises of the government’s housing project and are expecting to evacuate.  Consequently, houses are collapsing to the dismay and heartbreak of their dwellers.  

There’s plenty to keep you engaged throughout; the filmmakers affectively showcase the humanity and heart of these subjects, their bittersweet familial ties, their incredible resilience, along with their hopes and dreams. We see the residents making positive strides in their lives; they ultimately come together to protest government dismissal of their situation and set forth to bring about change.

The filmmakers also capture many moments of hilarity and amusement throughout. These elements prevent the viewing experience from becoming depressing and its message from lacking a heavy-handed quality. Instead, Bay Of All Saints is poignantly revelatory and inspirational.

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