Justin Mitchell, a longtime cinematographer and director of an abundant of short films and music videos, makes his directorial debut with a feature length documentary called Rio Breaks, about two young best friends who compete in surfing contests on the coast of Rio de Janiero, and how these competitions become a chance to escape the favela slums in which they live.
Mitchell on his homepage, says he started on the project in 2004 when he read an article by Vince Medeiros's article upto 2009 and its completion, Medeiros shares a writing credit with Mitchell on the screenplay.
The two best friends, Fabio and Naama, are treated with esteem and respect as we watch them flirt between the drudgery of their slum lifestyle in the renowned favelas of Rio and the joie de vivre they experience when surfing in the cool crisp water of Arpoader Beach that reaches towards the Atlantic.
Mitchell does not shirk from giving the boys a background as we go in amongst their homes, Fabio tells the story of his home called Vietnam - because of the constant shooting and violence in it. These insights into the young boys, aged 12 and 13 only, really brings to the surface their need to succeed in the surfing world. Mitchell uses recognised names in the Brazilian surfing fraternity as examples of what is possible, if you are good, you can get money, leave the favela far behind and live happily.
However, like that other great sports documentary Hoop Dreams, the dream is there in front of the boys whilst ambition and perserverance will only get you so far in life.
Mitchell's background in cinematography comes to the fore in this visual as well as spoken narrative; inter-cutting between talking head interviews, documentary footage and action packed visuals of the surfers in their element - it shares a passion and viscerality with that other great surfing movie, Riding With Giants. Mitchell shot on HVX2000 as well as 16mm and 35mm film; giving a cinematic experience of both digital and filmic exhiliaration.
Continuing the recent trend of sporting documentaries that excel not just as nostalgia for past glories (Fire in Babylon, Senna) but also social commentaries, making comment on anthropological differences of different geo-political backgrounds - being young in Rio may sound like fun, but it sure does not look like it once you see how these people live.
A film as much for the head due to the polemical narrative, as well as for the eye due to the stunning visuals and imagery served up by an experienced photographer who successfully makes the jump to the directing chair.
Rio Breaks is on limited release from Friday 3rd June, and is distributed by Mr. Bongo films, who have had previous success with boxing documentary Sons of Cuba.