Leonard Abrams’ scattershot docu, “Quilombo Country,” ventures into little-known territory to explore the quilombos, thousands of communities founded by runaway slaves in the mountains and forests of northern Brazil. He emerges with demystified shards of history, glimpses of alternative primitive societies, truncated fragments of ongoing political strife and endless local variations on already-familiar Brazilian religious festivals and ceremonies. Bowing at Gotham’s Pioneer Two-Boots Sept. 19, this indifferently shot, poorly structured pic rarely reaches the clarity achieved by many of its unlettered interviewees, but raises interesting questions.
Abrams’ decision to recap each region’s history anew, with narration by Public Enemy’s Chuck D, results in a built-in discontinuity that stresses minor differences before establishing the villages’ shared heritage of slavery, exploitation and racism. Certain strong sections showcase aspects unique to the quilombos: Inhabitants proudly demonstrate their labor-intensive, self-sufficient methods of collectively building homes and harvesting and processing food, and speak eloquently of the struggle to maintain ownership of the land in the face of development and corruption. Yet Abrams somewhat perversely devotes the bulk of his docu to indigenous versions of oft-photographed colorful processions and trance-inducing rituals that flourish throughout Brazil.