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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 21:23 EDT

Brazil’s mission to Haiti captured on film

November 2, 2005

By Angus MacSwan

SAO PAULO, Brazil (Reuters) – It is not often that a soccer
team get driven to a match in armored cars with an escort of
soldiers. Or that the supporters of their opponents surround
them in a delirious outpouring of joy and affection.

Those were the scenes in Haiti’s decrepit capital
Port-au-Prince on August 18 last year when Brazil’s soccer
team, complete with Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, showed up to play a
special “Peace Game” against the Haitian national side.

That extraordinary day, when for a brief time Haitians were
united, has been captured on a documentary called “O Dia em que
o Brasil Esteve Aqui” (“The Day Brazil Was Here”) by two
Brazilian film-makers and is showing at the Sao Paulo
International Film Festival.

The idea for the film came when Joao Dornelas read in a
newspaper article that the world champions were going to Haiti,
where the Brazilian army was leading a United Nations
peacekeeping force in the violent aftermath of the overthrow of
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.

Dornelas and co-director Caito Ortiz headed to the
Caribbean nation with cameraman Fabio Altman.

“We spent 15 days there, so we were able to capture this
collective mood that went on. Also we stayed there a week after
the game which gave a good sense of emptiness, of ‘what now’,”
Ortiz, 34, told Reuters.

Brazil’s role in the U.N. mission was part of President
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s plan to project Brazil as a
regional power.

As Bolivar, a community leader in a Port-au-Prince slum,
says in the film: “Brazil came to Haiti with its most powerful
weapon — football.”

The film was shot with hand-held digital cameras which get
right up close to the action. There is no narrated commentary
but a wonderful soundtrack of Haitian music.

The scenes barely need explanation anyway.

SPECIAL PLACE

Brazil’s soccer teams, many of whose players are, like the
Haitians, of African descent, had long held a special place in
the hearts of the impoverished nation.

“The people are very poor in every sense,” said Dornelas,
aged 30. “They don’t have idols. They don’t have anything they
can root for so when they see a black guy like them who came
out of the favela who can make money, who can be famous, they
can look at it like a mirror.”

An early scene shows Brazilian soldiers handing out
postcards of Ronaldo and his team mates which are seized like
religious icons. A distribution of yellow T-shirts almost
causes a riot. When tickets for the game go on sale, there is
pandemonium.

The cameras accompany the Brazilian players off the plane
which flew them in from the Dominican Republic for the day. The
most amazing scenes follow as the players are driven to the
stadium in the peacekeepers’ white armored cars. Thousands of
Haitians in a fever of excitement line the streets, run
alongside the convoy and scream out to players.

Real Madrid’s Ronaldo looks a little nervous. Barcelona’s
Ronaldinho appears to be having a whale of a time.

There are touching scenes too: the Haitian players
contemplating the honor of playing against their idols while at
the same time feeling proud to represent their own country; and
Brazil’s coach Carlos Alberto Parreira telling his players in
the dressing-room that the event was one of the greatest of his
life and was something they would remember for the rest of
their lives.

The political background of Aristide’s flight, the militia
violence and Haiti’s tortured history of bloodshed and misrule,
is largely ignored by the film makers.

“That’s totally on purpose. We started out trying to
outline the how and when and pretty soon it was obvious to us
that it didn’t matter,” Ortiz said.

“It could be Aristide, it could be Baby Doc or it could be
Papa Doc. That’s kind of how they play politics in Haiti, so we
focused more on the game.”"

THRILLING DISPLAY

Brazil trounced Haiti 6-0 with a thrilling display of their
skills and the team flew out the same night. The euphoria of
the event did not last long.

“The population seemed to believe that game would solve
most of their problems. Somehow they chose to believe
everything would be fine from here on,” Ortiz said.

“And at the end of the day, when the game was over and they
flew away, people were not happy.”

Indeed things have gone from bad to worse in Haiti. The
peacekeepers have taken the offensive against gangs in the
slums, killing many Haitians and taking casualties themselves.

Elections are due to be held by the year’s end with every
sign that it will be a difficult and bloody event.

But just for one day, when Brazil was there, soccer lived
up to its billing as the beautiful game.

Ortiz, whose film on Sao Paulo’s motorcycle dispatch riders
“Motoboys Vida Loca,” won the best documentary at the 2003 Sao
Paulo festival, and Dornelas are negotiating to get the film
distributed in Brazilian cinemas by the end of the year.

They are also talking to TV France, NHK of Japan and HBO in
the United States for television deals so it will hit screens
before the start of the World Cup in Germany next June.