Brazil’s Cinema Morocco: From the Streets to the Movie Screen

A community of refugees and homeless people occupying an abandoned cinema take to the screen and reenact film classics

In 1954, Sao Paulo’s Cinema Morocco was one of the most glamorous picture houses in Latin America.

It housed Brazil‘s first international film festival that saw a parade of Hollywood stars in attendance, screening black-and-white classics such as Sunset Boulevard, La Grande Illusion, and Julius Caesar.

Decades later, the ornate cinema has closed, the building is abandoned.

A community of refugees, immigrants, and homeless people now reside there, living under the constant threat of eviction by the municipality.

At one time, more than 2,000 people from 17 countries occupied the building, making a home for themselves among the ticket booths, graffitied walls and emptied rooms.

Their rent is collected by the building’s informal supervisor, Vladimir, who says he uses the money for maintenance as well as legal support to fight repossession cases.

While residents give the building a second life, a film crew visits to revive the films once shown there.

In a guerilla-style acting workshop, residents work with the crew to learn scripts, don costumes, rehearse film scenes, and reenact them on camera.

Many of them use the workshop to reflect on their pasts as well as their future dreams.

Valter, a former lighting technician who struggled with depression and ended up on the streets after his brother was assassinated, wants to start a theatre group; Dulce, a mother from Cape Verde, is determined to return home to her children and earn a living as a singer; and Cameroonian rapper Kouotou speaks truth through his music.

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In total, 30 community members participate in the workshop, working hard to perfect their performances. But soon, the realities of eviction come knocking at their door.