Rio Breaks (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

September 16, 2010 by  

Captivating and awesome from beginning to end!  “Rio Breaks” is more than just a surfing documentary, its a film about children who surf to survive and Justin Mitchell has done a fantastic job in showing us the reality for many of the kids from the favela (slums) in Rio de Janeiro.  Highly enjoyable and an all-out, awesome documentary that is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2010 Factory 25. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Rio Breaks


DURATION: 85 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: English, Color, 1:78:1, Widescreen: Dolby Digital, Region 0


COMPANY: Factory 25

Released Dated: August 31, 2010

Directed by Justin Mitchell

Written by Vince Medeiros, Justin Mitchell

Co-Writer: John Maier

Executive Producer: Francesco Civita, Sheri Levine, Michael Thornton

Producer: Vince Medeiros, Justin Mitchell

Music by Jeffrey Kite

Cinematography by Justin Mitchell

Edited by Rene Guerra, Justin Mitchell











Set against the volatile and dangerous world of the favelas, Rio Breaks tells the story of two surf-obsessed friends, 13-year-old Fabio and 12-year-old Naamã.  The pair live in Rio de Janeiro’s Favela do Pavão, which is controlled by one of the city’s most dangerous drug gangs. However, their attention is focused on the waves of Arpoador Beach and on a coming surfing event that may help them become professionals and escape the world of gangs.

Nominated for Best Documentary at the Hawaii International Film Festival and winner of the Special Jury Mention at the San Sebastian Surfilm Festibal, this Sundance Channel co-production by Director Justin Mitchell  (Death Cab for Cutie: Drive Well, Sleep Carefully; Jenny Lewis: Welcome to Van Nuys; Ted Leo: Dirty Old Town & Songs for Cassavetes) and Writer Vince Medeiros (Surfing & Huck magazine) is an inspired and hugely original documentary that takes the surf film genre into never-before-seen territory.

“Rio Breaks” is a highly enjoyable, touching yet heartbreaking surf documentary that is highly recommended!

For many kids living in the favela (slums) of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, growing up in the area means a volatile life, a life of poverty, as many of the kids become drug traffickers or simply don’t live a long life as drug wars and wars between the police and one of the many drug gangs that are fully armed and ready to take on the police and rival gangs and many people, children end up dying.

This is the life of those living in the favela (there are around 700 of them in Brazil) and this has been going on since the 18th Century in Brazil where former slaves with no land or jobs have settled and later on, people from another town or from the countryside have moved to a larger city in hopes to find a better living and job, but for many, the good life that they have searched for have become fruitless and many have moved to the favela, where many of the poor reside.

But minutes from these Favela in Rio is Arpoador Beach and for many children, a few who grow up in the Favela do Cantagalo who are able to stay away from trouble by going to the beach, away from the favela and surf.

“Rio Breaks” is a documentary by Justin Mitchell (know for directing videos for Death Cab for Cutie) and co-written by Mitchell, Vince Medeiros and John Maier and focuses on two children who live in the favela near Arpoador Beach and surf on the beach to stay away from trouble.

Thirteen-year-old Fabio is a boy that is passionate about surfing but he is also a boy who has had a hard life.  His father who was part of a drug gang wanted out of the gang and thus he was killed and dropped over the cliff.  His mother was never part of his life and thus Fabio looks towards surfing as a way for him to get out of the favela and hopefully win competitions and earn sponsorships.    But things are not easy for Fabio, he’s doesn’t go to school and he has a short temper and can get a bit mischievous and can easily get into trouble.

Meanwhile, 12-year-old Naama is a friend of Fabio and enjoys surfing and bodyboarding.  He also has a hard life as he lives in the favela but unlike Fabio, Naama has big dreams.  He wants to study hard in school, surf, dreams of going to Hawaii because he can’t believe people surf enormous waves and also dreams of riding a helicopter.  But Naama is wise for a young boy.  His brother who was a surfer but also a drug trafficker was killed by the police when he was coming home with some detergent and a DVD.  Because his family is not making much money, his brother tried to make money selling drugs and ended up getting killed.

But this is the life of the favela.  Someone’s life is always taken, someone always dies and a child is easily corrupted and ends up joining one of the many drug gangs in the favela and ends up as a trafficker or one of their soldiers.

But there are a few people in the favela who want to make sure that all children are not corrupted and that is where surfer Rogerio and his friends come in.  Rogerio and friends run the Favela Surf Club.  They lend out surfboards to kids to go out and surf.  And also training them and preparing them for competition.  Their main rules are study hard in school and practice your surfing and they are full aware that some of the kids will stay true to those rules but also know how things are in the favela and know how some kids can easily get into trouble and can easily be corrupted.

Director/cinematographer Justin Mitchell shows us how life is for Fabio, Naama, Rogerio and a few others who surf or have had children or friends who have surfed but were easily corrupted by the drugs or joined a drug gang and were killed, shot or serving time in prison.  But to show us that no matter how bleak things are, there are people out there who are willing to show you the light, a better life if you want it. There is hope!


“Rio Breaks” is presented in 1:78:1.  Justin Mitchell does a fantastic job with his coverage in the water, on the beach as he showcases the Favela Surf Club members surfing or just beautiful shots of Rio de Janeiro to give us the glimpse of the lives of those who are living in the Favela do Cantagalo.  Cinematography was very well-done and character positioning and just capturing the ups and downs of the two children were well-done.


“Rio Breaks” is presented in Portuguese Dolby Digital with English subtitles.  Dialogue is clear and understandable, subtitles were easy to read and the documentary also features cool music!


“Rio Breaks” comes with the following special features:

  • Bonus Scenes – A total of eight deleted scenes: Kids on the Roof, Dengue Fever, Kevin Skips School, Favela Surf Clube, Simao Romao, Maicon, Surf vs. Study, Party at Fia’s
  • Trailers – Featuring the original fund-raising trailer for “Rio Breaks”(formerly titled “Favella Breaks”, 6:57) which was shot in 2005 by Justin Mitchell who interviews a few surfers including Rogerio (and the Favela Surf Club) on the life of people in the Favela and those who have turned to surfing to stay away from the trouble. Also, included is “Trailer 2 (Final)” (1:19), the original theatrical trailer for “Rio Breaks”.
  • ‘Living Cantagalo’ – (6:52) In 2006, Justin Mitchell spent a few days living with Rogerio in the Favela do Cantagalo to see what kind of footage he can capture on 35mm.

Although surfing films or documentaries about children who have surf and had troubled lives are nothing new for those of us in the US, rarely do we see how surfing is a way of life for many people in other countries and most of all, how surfing is a way to get people away from the volatile life of drug gangs, drug wars and showing children that they have choices.

“Rio Breaks” is a fantastic surfing documentary that really shows us the life of these surfers and children who grew up in the favela.  I have watched many surfing films and surf documentaries but this is probably the deepest surf documentary I have seen in my life.  Granted, “Dogtown and Z-Boys” was marvelous documentary of showing us how kids who didn’t have much, using their talents to become something bigger but “Rio Breaks” was something that really surprised me because I was unaware that people were surfing not only for the fun of it but also as way to escape their lives in the favela, even for a few hours a day, there are kids who do it, are passionate about it but know that they can easily be swayed to join a drug gang in the promise of money and women.

But at the same time, with so many people, especially children getting killed, it’s a daily situation where shootouts are common and so, during the day… for some kids, surfing is their life and possibly their way to get out of the favela.

As a viewer, you really want to see both 13-year-old Fabio and 12-year-old Naama come out strong from their life in the favela.  Justin Mitchell does a wonderful job in following these young children for over a year and just see how they grow up and the things they face in life, that many of us in the US can’t even imagine.

You look at Fabio and here is a kid who is stoked on surfing but yet, his father was killed by his own gang for trying to leave, his mother doesn’t care about him, he doesn’t go to school and doesn’t have anyone out there to give him that love he needed when he was a kid.  As much as his friend Naama and even Rogelio and the members of the Favela Surf Club try to help him and make sure he doesn’t get into any trouble, this boy’s life is on a thread.  He doesn’t want to be in a gang, he wants to be a better surfer like his idol Kelly Slater but he and the family are barely surviving as it is.  So, despite his short temper, by watching this film, you root for him to see if he can avoid the trouble, avoid being corrupted and watch until the end to see the result.

But if anything, the child that you root for is the young Naama.  Naama is not as passionate of surfing like Fabio but he does it.  He learns it.  But he does what it takes to make his family proud.  He goes to school, he stays out of trouble but he has a good head on his shoulders to know what is right from wrong and even criticizes Fabio for being unruly at times.

But these kids are no different from other groms out there.  They love Kelly Slater and their local hometown surfers, they play Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer on the PS2, they want to surf and have fun, they want to get better at surfing but the difference is that these kids live a life where violence is daily, where life of poverty is daily and know that the odds of them leaving and finding a good life for themselves is quite slim.

We see the two children with different dreams.  Fabio centered towards surfing while Naama is much bigger.  Wanting to ride a helicopter, wanting to get out of the favela and not ending up like his brother who was a drug trafficker and was killed by the police while carrying laundry detergent and a DVD.  It’s surprising to our eyes, as many of us who do surf are unaware of how bad things really are for other surfers especially those who live in the favela in Rio de Janeiro.

Justin Mitchell and crew did a fantastic job with “Rio Breaks” and it’s definitely a documentary that one should watch.  Beautiful cinematography, well-paced and one of the best surfing documentaries out there.

If there is one thing I have to add to this review that is related to the film, after you have watched “Rio Breaks”, I highly recommended visiting the website (or by clicking here) as you get to see what happens to Naama and his family and also to those of the Favela Surf Club after Luciano Huck (one of the host of Brazil’s most popular TV shows) fell in love with the film.  A happy ending for those who enjoyed the documentary!

Overall, “Rio Breaks” is a fantastic documentary and is highly recommended!

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