Photo courtesy Jason O’Hara

Rye instructor combines activism with movie making

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By Alex Downham

A part-time Ryerson instructor turned his documentary on corruption around Brazil’s FIFA World Cup and Summer Olympics into a community initiative.

Since 2010, Jason O’Hara – a documentary media teacher – has filmed State of Exception, investigating human rights abuses in Rio de Janeiro as the government prepares for these events.

“Due to the expediency of these events, they can’t be delayed,” said O’ Hara. “There’s a state of exception where [The state] does what’s necessary because the government is too bureaucratic and unpredictable.”

O’ Hara said a “David and Goliath” battle is occurring between corporations, the Brazilian state, and civilians living on future stadium grounds. Although citizens have fought against their forced evictions in domestic and international courts, O’Hara has provided them with an extra voice.

“My focus is participatory media, to work alongside communities you’re telling stories with; so, I equip civilians and activists with cameras,” O’Hara said. “These evictions are unannounced and happen in the dark of night, so it’s important we have responders on the ground.”

O’Hara asserts both he and communities he works with are fans of these “mega” events. Due to the amount of money invested in these projects, however, activists believe they should have influence on these development plans.

“The World Cup and Olympics are a great party, Brazilians would admit that,” O’ Hara said. ““But I’m familiar with Brazil’s political context and by superimposing the Olympics there, there’s a lot of reason for worry.”

Along with illegal evictions, O’Hara said the Olympics’ and World Cup’s legacy of “egregious overspending” could exacerbate Brazil’s corruption and economic inequality. Canada went 1200 per cent over-budget funding 1976’s Montreal Summer Olympics, eventually paying the $1.5 billion cost in 2006 with a provincial tobacco tax.

O’ Hara has footage of Brazilians protesting these issues, yet Brazil’s government has protected “corporate interests” instead.

“The state and police shut up whoever spoils their party serving international capital,” said O’Hara, calling corporations like FIFA the conflict’s “real Goliath.”

“Militarized” police have attacked countless protesters, even O’ Hara, who was beaten and robbed of his camera in July during the World Cup’s final game.

“We’ve seen what an oppressive police state looks like for a few days during Toronto’s G20 riots, but in Brazil, it’s status-quo,” said O’ Hara.

As O’Hara and his team enter the final stages of production, he hopes the oppression and “social legacy” of the Olympics and FIFA World Cup will be exposed. He said finishing the film has been difficult due to its anti-corporate themes.

“When there’s commercial interest in these events, projects like this are outside the model,” said O’Hara.

O’Hara has filmed his first-feature length documentary with almost zero-budget. In the last stages of production, he has sought aid from the public and cause supporters for funding.

“Civil Society tries to make something like this a reality,” O’ Hara said. “But what’s in front of [Brazil’s citizens] is extraordinary. It makes my struggles to make this film pale in comparison.”

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