By Kate Rintoul, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL — Although the Brazilian government has been reducing forced labor in the country since 1995, extreme exploitation of workers still exists and has become more concentrated in urban areas, with 1,068 people freed from slave-like working conditions in the country’s cities last year. A new series of independently produced documentaries seeks to cast light on this issue and record the experiences of those who find themselves in this situation.

It is estimated that as many as 200,000 people could be working under slave-like conditions in São Paulo, image by Notibras
It is estimated that as many as 200,000 people could be working under slave-like conditions in São Paulo, photo courtesy of Notibras.

Makeshift Americas is a film project initiated by Ana Defillo, an M.S. Candidate in Global Affairs at New York University, who is writing her theses on forced labor and has decided to employ her previous experience in filmmaking to raise awareness of the issue to a wider audience.

“It’s a very big issue, not just in Brazil but all over the world. Part of the reason I am making this documentary is because it’s an issue that needs to be discussed more and isn’t. Unfortunately, forced labor and exploitation is a huge part of our international economy and we need to be better informed on what is really happening. There is not enough widely accessible research and transparency on the issue.”

The first of Defillo’s films is due for completion in September and focuses on the garment industry in São Paulo, where, according to a statement from a state investigatory committee, there are about 10,000 illegal sewing workshops in the metropolis alone, involving 200,000 workers, many of them immigrants from Bolivia.

Working with a friend, Chris Shields as Director of Photography, Defillo has been making contact and conducting interviews with workers over the last year and has allowed their stories to shape the film. “I wanted to make sure the doc was formed by these interviews instead of my perceptions so we basically just shot everything and structured the film during editing.”

Ana Maria Defillo, Filmmaking, Brazil, Brazil News
Ana Maria Defillo is one of the documentary filmmakers behind Makeshift Americas based in São Paulo, photo internet recreation.

This has meant that a deal of flexibility has been needed, though Defillo thinks her background as a Venezuelan helped. “My approach is, I think, very South American – just go with the flow. I’ve learned from previous experiences that most if not all things will probably not go the way you originally plan so I expected to have to be constantly improvising, which I enjoy. Those we interviewed were giving us their time and experiences and I wanted to make sure we made it as easy as possible for them so we worked around everyone else’s schedule.”

Defillo aims to use the first short film within a crowdsourcing campaign and longer term would like to develop a feature film on the subject. “The issues of forced labor and exploitation in the Americas are very complicated and convoluted and cannot be properly addressed without more research, travel and funds. The campaign is going to be launched alongside the first completed short and will provide more details on the project. I think this will make the very complicated topic a bit more accessible and gives us more of a foundation once we start creating the feature length.”

Having been to film school for her undergraduate studies and collaborated with friends previously, Defillo says that this is the first film project that she is proud of and that she has aimed to present the same information in a more measured way than has previously been seen. “Many times when this issue is addressed through the media it’s heavily exploitative and reductive. We are trying to do the opposite of that and hopefully we have succeeded. The main goal of this project is to present this topic in an unsensational and research heavy manner.


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