D23Expo 2015: Walt Disney Animation

On Friday afternoon (Aug 14), Walt Disney Animation and Pixar presented their upcoming slate of animated features.

The presentation was kicked off by Alan Horn, Chairman of Walt Disney Studios.   He showed a history reel of Disney/Pixar animation highlights, and explained how proud he was to be connected to the heritage and legacy of Disney animation — to have a connection to the people who invented the art form of feature animation.

He further explained that when Ed Catmull and John Lasseter took over (as part of the acquisition of Pixar), the development model changed from an executive-driven process to a filmmaker-driven process.

He then introduced John Lasseter (head of Pixar and Disney Animation) to take us through the films.

I’ll cover Walt Disney Animation in this post, and Pixar in the post that follows.

ZOOTOPIA

John explained that he’d always been a fan of animation featuring anthropomorphic animals — animals that wear clothes, use machinery, drive cars (he cited Mr. Toad as an example here).   Zootopia is a film in that mode.

Director Byron Howard (Tangled, Bolt), Director Rich Moore (Wreck-it Ralph) and Producer Clark Spencer came out to present a film clip.   In the clip, Nick Wilde, a fox (voiced by Jason Bateman) is trying to con an ice cream shop owner out of a free ice cream for his son ( left the wallet at home … it’s the kid’s birthday … the poor kid is sick .. etc. ).   Watching this is bunny Judy Hops (voice by Ginnifer Goodwin), who will later pair up with Wilde to solve a missing persons case.

The area they inhabit is very richly designed, with different environs for the various types of animals — tunda, burrows, dunes, rainforest.

Ginnifer Goodwin came out to give some background on her character — she plays a cop, and in this world cops are always the bigger, tougher animals.  So as a bunny, she’s assigned to be a meter maid rather than getting the good assignments.   So the missing persons case she is working (it wasn’t explained how that will come about) is going to be her big break.     In  another hilarious scene — where Nick and Judy are trying to get information from a DMV employee played, appropriately enough, by a sloth — it’s unclear whether Nick is really trying to help or hinder the investigation.

We had a very brief video from Shakira, who played just a few seconds of her song Try Everything from the movie.  She is also playing the character of a gazelle.

Zootopia will be released March 4th 2016.

GIGANTIC

Lasseter to returned to the stage to explain how, whenever Disney does a fairy tale story, it tends to become the definitive version of that tale.   Many of the Disney stories had been told and re-told in many different forms before Disney’s version.

So, Lasseter announced that Disney is now setting out to tell the definitive version of the Jack and the Beanstalk story.   The movie will be titled Gigantic, with a release date of 2018.   Nathan Greno (Tangled) will direct, and Dorothy McKim will produce.

The film is set in Spain during the Age of Exploration.   We heard that when Jack goes up the beanstalk, he encounters not just a single giant, but a whole community of giants.  In particular it appears he becomes the plaything of one young girl (Inma – not sure about the spelling).

Bobby Lopez and Kristina Anderson-Lopez (Frozen) will create the songs for the movie.   They came out on stage and Kristina sang “Little Man” from the film while storyboards for that sequence were shown.

No casting was announced.   The movie is scheduled for a 2018 release.

MOANA

John Musker and Ron Clements (The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, Treasure Planet, The Princess and the Frog) directing, Osnat Shurer producing.

Moana directors John Musker and Ron Clements. Image (c) D23.com.

Moana directors John Musker and Ron Clements. Image (c) D23.com.

This tale is set in the South Pacific.   The islanders in this region, historically, have been some of the greatest navigators in the world.   Yet, for some unknown reason, about 2000 years ago they stopped exploring and basically stayed at home for a thousand years.   Then, about 1000 years ago, they resumed their seafaring ways.   This story sets out to tell us why.

Teenager Moana longs to explore the ocean, but her father doesn’t want her (or anyone) to venture past the reef-protected immediate vicinity of their island.    She is encouraged and motivated by her grandmother.   She is also inspired along the way by a demi-god, Maui, played by Dwayne Johnson.

At this point Dwayne came out and told us more about his character.   A clip was played where he tries to impress Moana.  The character Maui is covered with tattoos, which will animate to tell about his deeds.   He carries a giant fishhook with which he can pull islands up from the ocean floor.

Dwayne Johnson. Image (c) D23.com.

Dwayne Johnson. Image (c) D23.com.

We saw a clip where Moana, as a young girl (about 2), meets the ocean for the first time.  This is a beautifully animated sequence in which the ocean has real personality — it teases Moana by withdrawing to reveal shells, and as she moves forward to collect the shells, the ocean forms a wall around her, creating a virtual aquarium where she can see the sea life around her.   A wave then gently carries her back to the beach.

A Polynesian musical number was then performed by a large group of singers and dancers; I’m not sure if this was actual music from the movie or just to show the general tone, but it was beautiful and should be amazing when paired with animation like the preview we were shown.

Release date:  11/23/16

Those are the upcoming films from Walt Disney Studios feature animation … Pixar will be covered in the next post, and the live-action releases (Disney, Marvel, and Lucasfilm) in the posts that follow.

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Expedition Everest Challenge, Part 3: The Hunt

After completing the 5K, the ‘Challenge’ part of the Expedition Everest Challenge is to complete a scavenger hunt.   (I’m not sure why this is called a scavenger hunt, as there isn’t really any “find something” aspect to this at all — unless you didn’t pay attention on the race to where the clue stations were located).

As soon as I crossed the finish for the 5K, I headed to the first clue station to get my first question.   This was by far the most challenging clue of the night:

Clue 1:

Only time will tell if you make it to the summit of Mt. Everest.   If climbing for 24 hours straight, how many times will at least 3 digits in the row be the same on your analog watch?   This is not boot camp so don’t use military time.

Thinking I was clever and had seen through the misdirection, I immediately went to the volunteers handing out Clue 2 and said you would never get 3 of the same digits in a row on an analog watch.   But this wasn’t the answer they were looking for; the clue writer was the clueless one here on the difference between analog and digital watches.

I struggled with this one more than I should have, probably because I was overly concerned with my time to finish the challenge (not sure why at this point, as I certainly wasn’t going to be winning anything!)    I quickly came up with 1:11, 2:22, 3:33, 4:44, 5:55, 11:11, and 12:22, knew to double that for a 24-hour period, and wrote down the answer 14.   Nope, try again.   At this point I saw that others had written down ’34’ and were being given the second clue, so I decided not to spend any more time on this one, wrote down 34, got the second clue, and didn’t worry more about it until the next day.

(As an aside, the next day I realized 11:11 was just one part of the whole series of 11:10 through 11:19 that all have 3 1’s in a row; but that only got me up to 32.   The last piece to click into place was getting 10:00 with 3 0’s in a row, so adding 10:00 am and 10:00 pm gave me the final two to get to 34.)

Clue 2 was a bit easier, but still required a little time to work through.   There was a wheel with letters around it (think the Wheel of Fortune wheel with letters rather than dollar amounts), and you had to figure out the word spelled a series of spins of the wheel.   They gave the starting letter as ‘C’ and then several directions such as Left 2, Right 2, Left 3 — but the first ‘spin’ wasn’t given as a number, but a hint:

Start with C and turn from there the number of years Expedition Everest has been run‘.

Fortunately, they’d given us the answer to this while we were in the corrals waiting to start the run — they asked more than once for a show of hands, how many had run the event all 7 years it had been run?    So I wasn’t sure if they were looking for 7 (previous runs) or 8 (total including tonight’s run).    I tried 7 first and got C, A, R, A, B, I, N, E, R — yep, that looks good, off to get clue 3!

(The clue stations were all marked with large lit balloons like the ones that marked the corrals at the start of the race, and they were all stationed along the race course — so essentially the challenge gave us a second lap of the in-park portion of the course we’d run earlier in the night.  I think I recall the total mileage for the 5K + challenge as coming in at almost exactly 5 miles).

Clue 3 was simply to put into order the groups of letters ERS, INE, NTA, MOU — given the theme of the night I had MOUNTAINEERS as quickly as I could write it down, and was off for Clue 4.

Clue 4 gave the hint:

L + live + A + Sh + N

I was sure this needed to be sounded out to get the answer but I had to look at it several times before getting ‘elevation’.   But I definitely liked the trend of 3 and 4 being easier than 1 and 2 — only one more clue to go!

Clue 5 was not difficult, but it was time consuming.   There was a 13 x 13 grid of letters forming a word search.  The clue:

We have finally found the Yeti and you will too, but where?

Solve the word search and you will know where he is hiding.  Use this cipher and the previous four answers to help you in this quest.

Clue #1 x 3, Clue #2 x 4, Clue #3 x 2, Clue #4 x 3.

The leftover letters will tell you where the yeti is and what you need to do at the finish line.

So — Clue #1, the answer was 34, and I quickly saw that ‘THIRTYFOUR’ did appear in the word search grid.  So I needed to find it twice more, for a total of 3 times, and circle those letters.   Then I circled CARABINER four times, MOUNTAINEERS twice, and ELEVATION 3 times.   The remaining, uncircled letters told me what I needed to do next:

Go Find the hidden Yeti on a clue card and hold it up at the finish

Going back through the clue cards, each had a different bit of artwork on the front.   It took me a bit before I made out the Yeti face diagonally across the second clue card.   I reordered the cards to put #2 on top and then started for the finish line — the final clue station wasn’t all that close so there was still some distance to cover.   As I approached the finish I saw the volunteers checking runners as they came through, if you weren’t holding up Card #2 they’d tell you nope and divert you to the side.  I passed straight through, picked up my medal, and then stopped for pictures.

Can you spot the Yeti?

Can you spot the Yeti?

How about now?

How about now?

 

Heading for the finish with "Card 2" ready to show

Heading for the finish with “Card 2” ready to show

There was an after-party going on inside the park with several rides open, but having already done an AK day and ridden everything we were interested in, we decided to blow off the after-party and head for the room, to try to get some rest for a full day at Epcot the following day.    There were some nice photo ops in the park that might have been worth stopping in for, but I’m much more a morning person than a late nighter so I think for me, calling it a night at this point was the right call.

Done here.

Done here.

Overall, this was a really fun event, and the only 5K that is treated as an ‘event’ by runDisney — all the other 5Ks are kind of third-tier add-ons to the marathon and half-marathon races.   I think something like this is really a nice change of pace, and while I know this is the last EEC, I hope it’s not the last time there’s an event of this type.

 

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Expedition Everest Challenge, Part 2: The Run

The run portion of the Expedition Everest Challenge is a 5K.  Our course started out by running around the circumference of the Animal Kingdom parking lot.   This portion of the run made up approximately a mile of the 5K course.   Just before we reached the park entrance, we came to the first of 3 obstacles along the course — the hay bales.   These were pretty low — probably a foot high and a foot long.   It would certainly be possible to just step over them, but I got into the spirit of the challenge and tried to take them at speed.

The first obstacle - Hay Bales

The first obstacle – Hay Bales

Soon after that I was at the 1 mile marker.   I was running with the new Apple Watch, and had decided to try to workout app on the watch rather than running with the Garmin that I usually use.   I was a little concerned that we hit the 1 mile marker while the watch showed me still well short of a mile (I think about .8).   After the race, I learned from other runners that it wasn’t my watch — the course was not officially certified and was in fact quite a bit short (somewhere in the 2.7 – 2.8 mile range).   That’s a surprisingly large miss even for a non-certified course.

Our course through the park was essentially a clockwise lap around the park — through the Oasis, left in front of the Tree of Life into Africa / Harambe, then cutting across to Asia and the Expedition Everest area.   Our path then took us into backstage areas.   There was a long out-and-back stretch along a roadway, and here we came to the second obstacle, which was to crawl under netting.   Fortunately this was on clean dry grass so it wasn’t too tough, although it was surprisingly exhausting and I really felt glad to get back to my feet at the far end.

Coming out of the second obstacle

Coming out of the second obstacle

At this point, continuing on the roadway away from the Animal Kingdom, I was overtaken by a couple of riders on bicycles.   Other runners were alerting everyone to move right so the riders could get by.   Someone said ‘Fire Department’; I’m not sure if that was correct but they were certainly EMTs from somewhere, as within a minute of them passing me I came upon the scene where they were performing CPR on a runner.   I heard conflicting stories about the outcome, so I’m not sure if he was OK or not.   I certainly hope that it turned out OK.

After we finished the out-and-back leg of the course on the roadway, we turned left and merged with runners who were finishing up the ‘scavenger hunt’ portion of the challenge which comes after the 5K.   At this point there were signs and recorded audio telling runners to merge to the right, and scavengers to merge to the left.   After this, it was a turn into the finish chute for the run.    But unlike other races, when you finish the run, you’re far from done (and there is no medal awaiting you for “just” finishing the 5K).   There was a stop for water bottles, and then race volunteers handing out sharpies with small LED flashlights attached.   Then you picked up your first clue for the scavenger hunt.

The details of the scavenger hunt will be in the third and final Expedition Everest Challenge recap post.

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Expedition Everest Challenge, Part 1: Before the Race

I recently returned from my latest WDW trip and wanted to write up some memories of the trip while it was still fresh in my mind.

The main purpose of this trip was to run in the Expedition Everest Challenge (EEC).   I’ve always thought this looked like an interesting race but the timing has never worked out for me to run it.   When it was announced that 2015 would be final year for the EEC, I committed right away to attend.   Several of my friends were also planning to be there the same week — one for the EEC, another for her birthday — so I knew it would be a fun week to be there.   And the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival happening at the same time was another plus, although as it turned out we only spent one day at Epcot and didn’t see as much of that as we might have liked.

Registration and “Expo”

I knew from talking to friends who had run the EEC before that there wasn’t really a race expo — but I still wasn’t prepared for just how scaled down this event would be.   First of all, final race instructions didn’t even arrive until I was in Florida, so I wasn’t really even sure what was going to be happening when.   When I did receive the final race instructions email, I learned that the location for the registration was the Animal Kingdom parking lot.   When we arrived at the park, directions were non-existent — I never saw a single sign directing runners how to get to the registration location.    Since the registration didn’t open until noon our plan was to spend the morning in the Animal Kingdom then pick up my bib and other materials on the way out.   As we were trying to get into the park there was all “all stop” on the trams as a guest was walking down the tram-only roadway trying to find a way through the barriers and into the registration area.     Partly — OK, mostly —  his fault, but again the complete lack of directions on how to get to the tents didn’t help.   (When we exited the park and were ready to head over to registration, we had to ask a cast member the best way to get there as I never saw a directional sign.  It was definitely arranged in such a way that they clearly expected you to ride the tram to the front entrance and then walk back to the tents — but this was unclear from the parking lot and it looked like the trams would take you away from where you needed to be).

The registration area was just a big tent; you went into one side to turn in your waiver and get your race packet (bib, wristband for the after party) and then to the other side to get your race shirt and a plastic bag for the bag check.   It was by far the quickest registration I’ve ever been through for a runDisney event – I was probably out of there in under 10 minutes.    There was no official runDisney merchandise.   New Balance had a booth to sell this year’s monochrome shoes (so glad I got the 2014 version) and Fit2Run had a booth there as well.   (I think there was one other tent but can’t recall which company it was for).   That was the totality of the ‘expo’; I didn’t make any stops other than the registration tent and then we headed back to the car to spend the rest of the day in another park.

Pre-Race

On race night, I had dinner with friends at Jiko and then made the short drive over to the Animal Kingdom parking lot.    We arrived about 8:45 for a 10 p.m. start, and had a chance to do some visiting before time to head into the corrals.   I was in corral I  (J was the last, so I’m definitely a back-of-the-pack run/walker).   The first corral started at 10, and I believe it was about 10:40 when our corral was scheduled to start.   Unlike other runDisney starts there were no fireworks as each corral started — I’m guessing that this is out of consideration for the animals rather than due to the relatively small scale of the race.   From the corral I watched the other groups start one by one.  Because of the way the corrals were arranged we didn’t move from our assembly spot until we were the next corral to go.    Once we were up and in position, it was a pretty quick countdown to our start … and that’s where I’ll pick up the story in the next post.

Expedition Everest 2015 Starting Line

Expedition Everest 2015 Starting Line

 

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May 31/June 1 – Homeward bound

Saturday morning the sun rose into a clear sky over the beaches of Rio. Packing day. I’ve done some shopping while here, and most of what I purchased is somewhat fragile, and mostly too large and/or too heavy to put in my carry-on, so it took me a long time to get everything packed away safely. Then down to breakfast about 0800. Next, up to the rooftop for some sunshine and final pictures of Rio.

Copacabana sunrise

Copacabana sunrise

Rooftop View

Rooftop View

Most of us are leaving today. One left Friday, two leave later this week, and one of our group is staying 2 more weeks for the World Cup, in a town well South of Rio where the winter weather can be really cold. The tournament begins June 12 and lasts for a month. Brazilians are very passionate about soccer and their national team, but as I pointed out a few days ago, people are more reserved usual, or even downright hostile towards the event, due to the corruption and wasted opportunities I have written about previously. On the sidewalks in Rio you can see an outline of the spray painted slogan “FIFA GO HOME”. This is a remarkable sentiment; it would be like going to Disney World and seeing guests with signs reading: “Mickey go home”.

However, as this story in today’s WSJ Magazine shows, there is still a pure passion for soccer in rural Brazil that both strengthens and connects communities.

http://online.wsj.com/articles/world-cup-soccer-brazils-villages-compete-in-their-own-cup-1401475828

I’ll miss our study group; we really got along great with each other. I’m sure to be following up with at least three of our group; two are located in Florida (Rachel, at Flagler in St. Augustine, and Mark at Lynn in Boca Raton), and Krista from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, who is a sociologist; we have a shared interest in corporate governance, social responsibility and ethics (although to be sure, we have different perspectives on the topic), and we expect to share some class materials and research ideas with each other. But every member of the group is a person I would be happy to travel with again. What a delight it will be a few years from now to be at a CIEE seminar in (fill-in-the-blank) and be reunited with one or more of my ‘carioca’ friends.

at Sugarloa

at Sugarloa

in Little Africa

in Little Africa

at Study Center

at Study Center

It is good to be home with Ginny, Kristina, John and Liam (and Charlie, too). My travel home was relatively easy, and I’m sitting in my home office gazing out at the pool and lanai. It is easy to say how large the quantity and how excellent (and intense) the quality of the experiences have been in this seminar, and my entire trip. It will be days or weeks (or maybe longer) before I can really grasp how my experiences in Brazil have changed me and how my life and career will be affected. These are stories to be shared personally, among friends and family. I look forward to those conversations. And I will continue to share updates on all of the Brazil-related stories I’ve been blogging about this week on my twitter feed: @MarcusAIngram. Most of that material is related to higher education, finance and economics, with a splash here and there of sports, religion and politics. And humor!

Thanks for sharing your time with this blog.

Peace be to you,

Marcus

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May 30 – my last full day in Rio

I arrived in Rio early in the morning on Tuesday, May 20 after my overnight flight – this is my 11th day “in country”. Today was our debriefing session and two special meals to share what we’ve experienced and learned and to cement the connections among us that have started during the seminar. This morning, our seminar leader Sean McIntire and CIEE director Matt Ryan led us through two very interesting and revealing learning exercises. On the first day of our seminar, Matt had asked each one us to write down five words that expressed our expectations for the seminar. He held on to these, and this morning he asked us to each write down five words that expressed our experience at the end of the seminar. Then, we were to use those 10 words in any fashion to create a single expression. I wrote a paragraph. Then we shared. I was inspired by the creative ways my social science colleagues interpreted the assignment. Shannon, an education professor created a word-picture that looked like the beach and the favelas, hand-drawn using only her 10 words. Several of our group wrote beautiful poems (oddly enough, each person prefaced their poetic expressions by saying “this isn’t a poem”, so there’s clearly something here I don’t understand). Some of the expressions were very passionate, but none so much as the last one. Hakim is a professor of Africana Studies at Gettysburg, and after he used his 10 words in prose, he sang a song he composed during the exercise. It was breathtaking. His voice was loud and strong and truly beautiful; the melody he composed was dramatic and inspiring; and the words resonated with all of us. It was a very unexpected, emotional moment for us all.

Our next exercise was even more interesting. Sean put all of the different lectures and visits and activities on little slips of paper and tossed them into his hat. We broke into 4 groups, and each group drew 2 from the hat. Our assignment then was for our group to consider the juxtaposition of the two. Compare and contrast was the way our group went about it. After about 20 minutes we got back together and each person shared what they thought about their group discussion. Both of these exercises were excellent at creating new perspectives on experiences we had already talked about.

Lunch was from the menu at Eclipse, a nice upscale restaurant on the Copacabana. We had a few hours of free time, then we went out to an elegant restaurant. I never quite noticed where we were or what the name of the restaurant was because I was so engaged in conversation with my colleagues. But the food was the best we’ve had all week. I had a baked wrap full of turkey and asparagus and cheese in a cream sauce. I also got to taste the risotto, grouper and filet of sole from the plates of my 3 adjacent dining partners. Including the appetizers, every bite was delicious!

We walked back to the hotel along Ipanema beach. The weather the past 2 days has been perfect, and the night time is the best. Cool breezes and temps in the 70s and clear skies and the sound of the surf and…. Just beautiful. Saturday I pack up and head to the airport in the afternoon. I fly back to Florida overnight, and will arrive home in Palm Harbor about 1000 am on Sunday. I expect I’ll post one more time after I get home with final thoughts.

Here are some photos from yesterday’s Q&A session with the UPP commander and the resident association president from two different, but nearby, favelas.

IMG_0387_crop IMG_0380_crop IMG_0371_crop IMG_0353_crop IMG_0315_crop

Blessings and peace,

Marcus

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May 29 – my 10th day in Rio

Today was our last day of learning from ‘experts’, except that we have some experts who are with us every day. The CIEE staff has been incredible: Matthew Ryan, the head of the CIEE study center here, has lived off and on in Rio working with traveling students and faculty for 20 years. Also, Dr. Sean McIntire, an academic expert and CIEE staff member, our official seminar leader, Zach, Fernadina, Adams and Jerimias (CIEE staff), plus others who are interning or helping while on study abroad or fellowships with CIEE while here in Rio. Our group has had at least two or three CIEE helpers who have lots of local knowledge every day. But Matthew is the head honcho – he has planned and prepared every aspect of our seminar – lodging, transport, meals and other logistics, plus bringing in the dozen or so outside experts who have provided our classroom experiences and some of whom have even gone along on our visits to help us understand what we are seeing and answer our many questions. Most notable: Dr. Theresa Williamson (RioOnWatch.org – see Day 5). Every day has been a smooth progression building on the material we have learned in the prior days. Putting together this type of program takes a special skill set, and clearly Matt has it (for more information, visit CIEE.org).

Today we had a 2.5 hour Q&A session with two very significant leaders in Rio who are in the favelas every day, but from different perspectives. Vidigal UPP Commander Lt. Veiga and Cantagalos Resident Association President Jose Bezerra. In any favela where that has been ‘pacified’, these two positions are the most important in the community. Both of these favelas are close to the tourist area, so they were among the first to go through the process. Here’s the basic outline of the program, begun in 2009. First, the residents are told that the military police are coming. This gives the illegal elements – drug dealers, or what they call ‘militias’ (in the US we’d call this a ‘protection racket’) – an opportunity to leave and reduces the need for violent confrontation. Then, elite ‘special forces’ type military troops come into the favela and take complete control of the situation, going house to house to find any remaining criminals, etc. One resident told us that the use of military helicopters and automatic weapons shoot-outs are not uncommon at this stage.

Next, a second military police force is installed – the UPP (Police Pacification Unit). These are young honest cops specially trained in community policing techniques. “We’re here to help you” is their motto. Since the criminal elements are only a small percentage of the population, most of the residents get along well with the UPP and are glad that they are there. It requires a huge investment in manpower and equipment, and new police precincts right at the top of the favelas, very visible. Lt. Veiga told us he has 212 officers to police about 10,000 residents. By comparison, Tampa has a population of about 350,000 (within the city limits, plus commuters), and the total size of the police force is a little more than 1000, so that works out to 28.5 officers per 10,000 residents.

As for the residents’ association president, he had a very difficult transition to make. For years he had worked with the drug dealers; they were the only ones with an interest in the neighborhood and the income to do anything about conditions. The residents were used to the drug dealers settling disputes, taking care of the needy, etc. When the UPP comes in, the RA leaders have to sever all ties to the drug gangs, and accept the UPP as the new authority in the neighborhood. The resident leaders and UPP leaders have to trust each other and work together. The man we met today has extremely valuable knowledge and courage; one person familiar with the situation said “he IS the favela”.

It is difficult to put into words how valuable our time was with these two men. We all had an opportunity to ask questions of each of them. But even more impressive was to watch their interaction with each other. We took them to lunch, and they sat by each other and talked and talked. When we posed for our group photo, they put their arms around each other. It was a really special moment.

After another lunch at another kilo restaurant, we toured the world’s largest urban forest – Tijuca National Park.

IMG_5511

The weather wouldn’t cooperate; it stayed rainy and foggy and cloudy at every stop. We then headed up to see the statue of Christ the Redeemer on Corcovado. Here was an incredible trifecta: A beautiful monument, astonishing 360* views of Rio, and the divine serendipity of the weather clearing just as we got to the top, so we could see not only the monument, but the views, too. Also, it meant there were very few people there, so we got to visit at one of the most popular tourist stops in the world with only a score or two of others anywhere to be seen. I’ve posted 2 pictures below, but there are better pictures and a complete telling of the history of the monument easily found on the internets.

cristoIMG_5542_crop

Tomorrow we wind down the seminar with debriefing sessions and special meals together.

Grace and peace,

Marcus

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May 28 (Rio Day 9) – Vila Autodromo

Just two days of our seminar left, and after that my Rio-related posts to Epic Mikey will be complete. If you like the info and the commentary you’ve been reading here this week, please follow me on twitter – @MarcusAIngram. I post there regularly, and I plan to continue to follow the stories you have read about here.

Vila Autodromo is the most egregious example we’ll see here of the difficulties in the favelas that are directly caused by attempted government intervention. This neighborhood is flat, not hillside, not controlled by gangs or militias, tranquil and peaceful. It has been there for at least 40 years. But since it is very near to the 2016 Olympic site, there have recently been new threats to remove the residents.

Vila Autodromo is so named because it is located right up against the property of the race track at Jacarepagua that hosted the Formula 1 Brazil Grand Prix in 1978 and 1981-89. The original residents built there because of the access to fishing in the nearby lagoon, and the community grew as the residents found job opportunities building and working at the track, which was opened in 1977. The track is now closed, and the main Olympic stadium and many other venues are being constructed on the site. It is 19 miles from the tourista areas in South Zone, where we are staying, and it took 1 hour and 40 minutes to get there in today’s traffic. Traffic may have been made worse by a bus strike and bad weather, but imagine how long this journey will seem when the Olympics are in town.

Despite its peaceful nature, this community has been threatened with destruction many times since the early 1990s. In 1993, and in 1996, the residents successfully fought for and won a 30 year, then a 99 year, lease on the land. So, legally, they cannot be evicted. But the municipal government has gone in and made cash offers plus public housing that are almost too good to be believed. Some homeowners have been offered up to 2 million Reais (about $1 million US), to abandon their legal residences. Families have been offered numerous rent-free apartments in nearby public housing. (By comparison, when some of the South Zone favelas were forcibly removed in the 1980s, they were forced out to the “City of God”, a housing project made famous by the dreary movie of the same name. That means they were forcibly relocated as far as our journey today.) When residents accept these offers, their homes are bulldozed immediately and the lots left vacant – they cannot be built on again as the departing residents have given their rights to the land back to the government. At least so far, the city has removed most of the rubble.

Demolition

Demolition

Demolition

Demolition

The motivation is simple; the land will be given to the developers of the Olympic site after the Olympics, and the area has grown up to be an area of expensive, high rise residences with lagoon views. After the Olympics, the site will be re-developed in a similar fashion, only closer to the water.

New developments

New developments

New developments

New developments

But developers cannot force the residents off the land they legally reside on; they must coerce the government to try to coerce the people to leave. That’s what bothers me the most about the conflicts between the favelas and the government; one side has all the power and is not hesitant to use it.

Nevertheless, the residents have done an exemplary job of organizing and resisting. We met today with the president of the residents association. Twice before in his life he has had his home destroyed and been forced to move away from his home. He chose to come to Vila Autodromo because of its tranquil nature; it’s a good place to raise his family. In the photos below, you see our meeting with him in the building of the residents association. The banners they have made read: “Viva a Vila Autodromo – Rio without Removals.

Residents association

Residents association

The most heartbreaking story I heard today was this: he has a 14 year old daughter. Her biological mother accepted an offer to move to the nearby projects. Now that most of her friends have gone there too, she thinks about moving to the projects. Can you imagine any coercion stronger than this?

Nevertheless, he and the other residents are strong. Most have resisted coercion, and turned down lucrative offers. These are their homes, and they are proud of them; in most cases they have built these dwellings with their own hands. It is a good location, and they are there legally. But the pressure on the residents is growing stronger every day. Matt, our seminar leader, believes they have the strength and solidarity to hold out; I’m not so sure. I put the odds at 50/50. I’ll continue to follow and post the story of the Vila Autodromo on my twitter mini-blog.

After this visit, we had lunch in another nearby favela. This one has recently been paved, curbs added, etc. It is so different from Vila a Autodromo, where even though the roads are wide and flat, doesn’t have any paving, any sidewalks or any sewage system.

Nearby Favela

Nearby Favela

Tomorrow we meet with another residents’ association president, and the UPP commander from the Vidigal favela. That’s the one climbing up the hill above Leblon that I’ve shown before in my pictures of Ipanema. Mostly, that will be Q&A; our final classroom experience of the seminar. Afterwards, we’ll try to make up most of the sightseeing that got rained out on Saturday. Sounds like another great day ahead.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Marcus

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Day 8 in Rio

Mike has told me that views and visitors are both up since I began blogging on his site. I’m so glad that this experience is having a positive impact on others. Tonight, I’m blogging from the lobby of my hotel. Sorting photos, reviewing notes and writing takes at least an hour or two each night, and I disappear from the rest of the group. Perhaps tonight, by working here, I’ll see more of my group. This is a very talented group of faculty from all over the US, many of whom are knowledgeable about Brazil and have visited many times before, and most nights they go out for dinner, music and dancing, sometimes coming in hours after midnight. I am a typical, introverted academic, and so I enjoy this instead.

I just came back from an excellent meal at the next-door sidewalk café. I knew they wouldn’t speak English there, so I practiced my Portuguese before I went and all went smoothly. The chicken Milanese, with rice and beans and fries, was excellent. Except, when I tried to say the food was “excellent”, my waitress thought I was asking for a condiment, and brought me a bowl of peppers in oil. I tried a little bit, and it was so spicy hot I couldn’t taste my food for the next 5 minutes.

I’ve decided to share some background to start today’s blog. Brazil is the 5th largest nation in the world, and has the 5th largest population. For comparison, that is larger than the 48 contiguous US states, and the US is 3rd in overall population. More than 50% of Brazil’s 203 million residents live in urban areas. There are 6.3 million living in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second largest city, and more than 10 million in the metro area.

One of the distinctive features of Rio that has affected its development is the fact that numerous granite mountains rise up right near the coastline (and in the bay), providing a physical separation from the South Zone (Zona Sul – Ipanema and Copacabana) and the downtown (Centro) from the North and West zones, which stretch for many miles. Tunnels and bridges lead to huge traffic jams, and a sense of social disconnection.

Geography

Geography

The World Cup FIFA soccer tournament begins here June 12. It is the second time that Brazil has hosted, and the country is starting to get seriously revved up for the event. Soccer is a unanimous passion among Brazilians, and the excitement is palpable here.

Today, we had excellent presentations on two topics: the educational system in Brazil, and the urbanization of the country. Both experts gave us a national view, then focused on the situation in Rio, and specifically in the favelas.

In the afternoon, we visited Santa Marta, the first favela to be officially ‘pacified’ through the UPP process. That means that there was so much gang activity, the military police went in like an invading army and took over the entire area by force. After driving out the gangs and/or militias, new civil police stations were established and a huge police presence was installed. Once the violence was driven out, improved social services are supposed to come in. That means investments in infrastructure, education, health care and other human services. So far, it’s mostly just infrastructure. For example, Santa Marta got a new incline railway to help residents navigate the extremely steep final 500 or so vertical feet up into the favela. It wasn’t running when we arrived.

Santa Marta

Santa Marta

We went to an NGO called “Altitude Social” for an intense percussion lesson today; it was about 350 vertical feet above the nearest road, where our van dropped us off, and it was stairs straight up all the way. Basically, it was like walking up 30 stories of stairs. Except we went about 5 stories too high when we missed our turn, and had to come back down to Altitude Social. The favelas are like vertical mazes; I could never find my way through them without our guides. Only two of our group got lost, but fortunately we reunited with them just before dark.

Our destination was Michael Jackson Square. MJ came here in 1995 to record one of two videos for his song “They Don’t Care About Us” Spike Lee directed (the other was shot in a prison). Here’s a link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNJL6nfu__Q

View from SM

View from SM

I don’t care much for the song or the video, but the shots of MJ on the stairs in the favela are real. At 1:35 and 2:25 you can see the exact location of MJ Square where we had our percussion lesson. There is a life-size bronze statue of MJ there, and a larger-than-life mosaic of his visage. Much of the video appears to be shot on wide, cobblestone streets, which is probably the neighborhood below Santa Marta or Little Africa. The statue of Christ the Redeemer stares straight down into this favela. By the way, if you’re wondering how MJ managed all the climbing…he arrived via helicopter for the shoot.

MJ Square

MJ Square

MJ Square

MJ Square

When I travel home Sat/Sun I expect to have more time to write about today’s educational component. It will be a very long travel day, with many hours in airports. BTW: it is “winter” here, but the temps have been up in the 80s most days, except for the rainy ones.

Peace and blessings from below the equator,

Marcus

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Monday May 26 – 7th day in Rio

A long and excellent day. I was out before sunrise and got these photos on Ipanema beach. The lights that you see creeping up the hill in the background are the lights of a favela on the hillside there (a few miles from here). After the storms of the past 2 days, the surf is still up, and the 3rd photo shows some local surfers.

Ipanema

Ipanema

Surfers

Surfers

Per the usual CIEE formula, we had experts lecture and Q&A in the morning, and visits to the “real” Rio in the afternoon. Our lectures were at PUC-Rio (pronounced “POO-key Rio”), which is a private, Catholic university in an expensive part of town (Leblon). Our first was about the legal history of the favelas. They have been illegal for most of the time they have existed, but from the late 1800s until the 1930s there was a policy of ‘precarious tolerance’. Our expert, Dr. Goncalves, is a law professor, and he showed us the actual language of civic decisions through the past century. The blatant racism of the city officials is plain in the language of their edicts. In 1925 the law required the favelas to be hidden behind high walls; in 1937 they were made explicitly illegal. Although they were supposed to be destroyed at that time, the policy of active removal was not implemented. In the 1960s and 70s the residents of the favelas organized to demand property rights and non-removal. In 1988 the new federal constitution gave these very rights. However, this policy came to an end in 2009 as the Olympic decision was bring made. Since 2009 about 30,000 residents have been removed, mostly relocated far from the city center in the west part of Rio. The current policy (2011) calls for no new housing units in the favelas, and only such improvements that are necessary for safety, sanitation, livability, etc.

The second lecture was on the history of organized crime in Brazil, with an emphasis on how the organized crime syndicates here gained control of the prisons, and took over the favelas. We heard an estimate that 80% of all favelas are controlled either by organized crime (drug dealing gangs), or militias (self-appointed, corrupt, well-armed off duty police, firemen, former soldiers, etc.). Only about 20% of the favelas are free of these two violent controlling influences.

Next we went to the largest complex of favelas in Rio. Fifteen communities on several adjacent hillsides named Complexo do Alemao. This favela went through the pacification process (the residents call it “occupation”) in 2009-2010, and in 2011 they built a modern cable gondola service connecting five of the hilltops to the city below. Next to each station the police have built a modern UPP headquarters (“police pacification unit”). The police presence throughout these neighborhoods is obvious everywhere.

Telerifica

Telerifica

UPP

UPP

We visited an NGO named Oca dos Curimins, which is an org focused on providing education and other services to children in the neighborhood. Our local expert has been involved with this effort for 36 years. There are also support systems for adult women/mothers in the neighborhood. Only one of the programs has any outside funding; a job training program sponsored by The Coca-Cola Co. In the photos below, you see our group as we learn about the programs, then a picture of our tour guide Joao Carlos in the computer lab paid for with Coke money (the good kind). From the rooftop we took photos of the gondola system, the favelas, the incredible views all the way to the Atlantic, and each other.

Oca de Curimins

Oca de Curimins

Joao Caflos

Joao Caflos

Complexo

Complexo

Complexo

Complexo

Marcus at Complexo

Marcus at Complexo

On our way back to the south district where we are staying, we stopped at the Sambodromo. This is the worlds’ largest linear stadium. Tens of thousands sit here to watch Carnvale each year. Notice the sky boxes. It is an impressive building that runs along the street (both sides) for several blocks, but is only used for a few nights per year.

Sambodromo

Sambodromo

My day started early, and we were moving and/or learning continuously until we returned to the hotel after 630pm. I like this kind of day – full of activities and lots of new information. If you are interested in more details or have any questions, please post them on the blog or on Facebook and I will get back to you tomorrow.

I feel extremely grateful tonight for the life I have – for my family, my job, and my neighborhood.

Good night and God bless,

marcus

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