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'City' Revisited

3 Jan, 2008 By: Billy Gil

"City of Men"

When City of God, the film Fernando Meirelles co-directed with Kátia Lund, first screened in 2002, Meirelles could not have guessed it would end up one of the most acclaimed films of all time. Despite being a Brazilian film shot entirely in Portuguese, with a U.S. box office take of $3.3 million, the film currently sits at No. 17 on IMDb.com's top movies as voted by users.

“I could never [anticipate that] because I was taking a lot of risks,” Meirelles said. “I was working with first-time actors, editors, producers, writers. I was a first-time director. It was really very experimental.”

The experiment paid off. City of God, which was based on a novel by Paulo Lins, spawned a TV series, “City of Men,” that ran from 2002 through 2005. Meirelles produced the show with Lund and directed a few episodes.

Inspired by that series, the feature film City of Men comes to U.S. theaters Jan. 18 from Miramax Films. Meirelles produced but did not direct the film (that honor went to Paulo Morelli), as Meirelles has moved on to directing other projects. He helmed 2005 Oscar winner The Constant Gardener and the upcoming Blindness, starring Julianne Moore in a Portuguese story about a woman who is the only person who can see in a city stricken by blindness.

Vivendi Visual Entertainment and Palm Pictures are repromoting the complete series of “City of Men” on DVD as the film hits theaters. It comes in a three-disc collector's set, with all 19 episodes of the series, at $32.98.

“‘City of Men' is an incredibly successful Brazilian series, which attracted more than 35 million regular viewers on its original run in Brazil and is now a critically acclaimed success in the U.S. market, currently airing on The Sundance Channel,” said Deborah Schonfeld, DVD marketing for Palm Pictures.

Meirelles, who is in the middle of editing Blindness, expresses great appreciation for the continued excitement over the “City of Men” series, which tells of boys who grow up fast in the drug-and-violence-infested streets of the favelas, poor neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro. Meirelles said it all started with a short film called “Golden Gate,” broadcast on Brazilian TV before City of God's release. Its success led to Meirelles being asked to produce an episodic TV series.

“We did the first season, and it was quite successful,” Meirelles said. “In the fourth season, we decided to stop. The boys were grown-ups already. We never planned the whole thing, it just happened.”

Despite not having planned for the series' success, Meirelles said he gets it.

“If I'm not mistaken, it's like 90% of Rio living in slums,” he said. “There are stories that no one really tells. I took the time to try to understand and shoot from the inside. … We tried to put the camera inside and hear the story they wanted to tell.”

“City of Men” takes viewers inside the slums, through doorways of dilapidated houses, as its protagonists, Acerola (Douglas Silva) and Laranjinha (Darlan Cunha), struggle to survive. Its gritty filmmaking and realistic storytelling have won praise from such media outlets as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and Entertainment Weekly. The DVD release of “City of Men” won the Best TV Program at the 2007 Latino DVD Awards.

Silva and Cunha reprise their roles for the film.

For his part, Meirelles said he's happy to see the story continue and believes there are more like it to tell.

“It's such a different approach because City of God was about drug dealers, and this is about everyday life,” Meirelles said of the film, which follows the boys as they reach adulthood. “It's very moving.”

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