Experiencing the impressive CineCarioca Nova Brasília.

I missed Pearl Jam Twenty in Toronto so it was great to get a chance to see Cameron Crowe’s love letter to his grunge buddies in Brazil last week, where I was attending the Festival do Rio and its companion Rio Market. The doc is a typically passionate and engaging slice of music appreciation from Crowe, but what was most fascinating about the screening was the venue. It took place in a favela.

The shanty town I visited – Nova Brasilia in the Complexo do Alemao – houses approximately 260,000 people and until last December the inhabitants rarely got the chance to see movies. On Dec 24, the new CineCarioca Nova Brasília opened for the locals. It was funded by telecoms giant Oi and is managed by RioFilme, Rio De Janeiro’s film investment arm, in association with the city’s housing department, the Secretaria Municipal de Habitação.

Favela residents can watch a movie for R$4, or around $2.80. They can see all the new releases as well as special screenings, such as Festival do Rio entries like Pearl Jam Twenty. The venue opened shortly before elite police units moved in to the favela to implement the ongoing UPP Pacification initiative to flush out the drug dealers and supposedly make life safer for everybody.

Nobody was taking any chances and they installed bullet-proof windows in the ticket office. They needn’t have bothered – there was no trouble and besides, the slum has now been “Pacified.” The favela, like others in Rio, is patrolled 24/7 by police carrying guns. Critics of the programme have attacked the use of lethal force and say UPP creates a police state. The programme has not reached every favela yet so some remain strictly off-limits for all but their inhabitants.

Anyway, back to the theatre. During its first nine months of operations, CineCarioca Nova Brasília has sold more than 65,000 tickets. This translates into what publicists tell me is the largest occupation rate in Brazil – 55%. It’s no surprise: the 94-seater boasts stadium seating, air conditioning, excellent sound proofing and can show films in digital 3D or 35mm. It’s as good as any preview theatre I’ve seen in Los Angeles. For the record there were about 15 people in the audience for the Pearl Jam doc (sorry Cameron), although the shift manager informed us that the 10pm screening of The Three Musketeers later that night was sold out.

The parties created the cinema to cater to a demand from favela residents. After all, the shanty towns are self-sufficient communities with their own banks and… wait for it… McDonalds, so the social inclusion project seemed like a good idea and appears to be going well. RioFilme CEO Sergio Sa Leitao told me there are plans to build a further ten cinemas in the favelas.