‘City of God’ Director Fernando Meirelles Is the Man Behind the Rio Olympics Opening Ceremony

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By now we’ve had plenty of time to get the negative coverage of the Rio Olympics out of the way, and can start getting down to the the business of celebrating Brazil’s historic moment in the global spotlight. And what better way to get in the celebratory mood than with a spectacular Olympics opening ceremony? With two-thirds of the world watching the event’s broadcast, the ceremony has emerged as a massive stage for host countries to showcase the richness of their cultural heritage, while setting an enthusiastic tone for athletes and fans alike. And after the 2008 Beijing Olympics tapped film director Zhang Yimou to direct, the show was taken to a whole new level of camera-friendly spectacle.

For this year’s games, Brazil has stepped up to the challenge by bringing in their own internationally-lauded film director, Fernando Meirelles, to helm the massive ceremony along with filmmakers Andrucha Waddington and Daniela Thomas. Meirelles seems the logical choice given the breakout success of his stylish fable of favela life, 2002’s Cidade de Deus (City of God), but more importantly the São Paulo native is known for his ability to explore Brazil’s complex social issues with an elegant flair.

Indeed, Rio’s Olympic Committee seems hyper-aware of the difficult moment their country is living, and they are making a conscious effort not to polish over some of those rough edges. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the ceremony’s limited budget, which amounts to a mere fraction of the $100 million Beijing pumped out for their game-changing opener. Speaking to the financial restrictions, Meirelles highlighted the importance of frugality, saying “It does not make sense to be extravagant in this moment that the country is facing.”

Fernando Meirelles holds the Olympic torch. Photo: Rio 2016/Evandreia Buosi
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But we can be sure that all of the color and vivacity of Brazilian culture will be on proud display for the world to see. According to the Rio Olympics’ website, the ceremony has been designed around three overriding themes: the garden, diversity, and joy. “The garden,” of course, refers to the Amazon rainforest, and will offer a pretext for the organizers to emphasize the importance of environmental responsibility. In addition, the spectacle will feature 12 local samba schools and a number of the country’s most outstanding musicians from past and present.

Among the most anticipated performances, Tropicalia OGs Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso will be playing alongside 23-year-old Carioca dance pop sensation Anitta. But Anitta will be far from the youngest performer at the ceremony, which will include a set by 12-year-old rapper MC Soffia, who recently made waves on social media with her anti-racist music videos. Curitiba-native Karol Conka and Rio’s own Marcelo D2 will also represent for the hip hop genre, while Elza Soares will hold it down for the country’s rich samba tradition.

In all, despite the event’s budgetary restriction we can be damn sure that Brazil’s opening ceremony is in good hands. Now it’s up to Meirelles to take the global focus off of Rio’s ongoing problems and remind us what the Olympics is really all about.

To read even more coverage of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, click here.