With Quilombo Country, first-time filmmaker Leonard Abrams opens a window onto the distinctive Afro-Brazilian culture that developed 400 years ago, when African slaves were first brought to Brazil. Those slaves who rebelled or otherwise managed to escape fled into the rainforests and established their own communities or quilombos, where their descendants still live and practice a culture that combines African, Brazilian, and Indian traditions. Unfortunately, Abrams’s uninspired approach to the material—interviewees speaking directly into the camera, a show-and-tell structure, and a monotone-voiced narration by Chuck D of Public Enemy—recalls those dull and slightly condescending ethnographic films shown in junior-high social-studies classes in the 1950s and ’60s. While Quilombo Country isn’t exactly patronizing, the viewer remains at a distance from the people on-screen, who are shown building houses, cooking meals, dancing, and practicing their religious and spiritual rituals. Hopping from one settlement to another, the film too often feels more like a lesson than an experience.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 17, 2008