In an abandoned parking lot in a Rio de Janeiro ghetto sits a circus tent—an incongruous sight, but no more unusual than its motley crew of young performers, searching for a life apart from the drug-related violence around them. As chronicled by first-time filmmaker, Kelly J Richardson, putting on a show takes rigor and resourcefulness in their impoverished community, and even this modest production of acrobats and contortionists is not free of injuries and ego clashes. But the big top is their oasis, and the human drama of hope and ambition the greatest show on earth.
"Intimate" and "Incisive" - Los Angeles Times; "Richardson's astounding skill is demonstrated in striking visuals and the themes of escape and flight that extend beyond the circus' aerial acts..."- The Berkeley Voice/Oakland Tribune; "Infectiously gleeful" and "...as far as behind-the-scenes documentaries go, this is one of the best that I have seen..." - Filmbalaya
I came to this project through a deep personal connection with performance art. In 2006, after years of physical training in gymnastics, dance and theater, I moved to Salvador, Brazil, where I began training and performing with a local circus. The circus I joined incorporated various components including a social project, which targeted children and youth living in the nearby slums who were deemed “at-risk” for getting involved with the drug trade and other crime.
The social project provided the participants with teachers, a space to practice and opportunities to perform. As our practice times regularly overlapped, I got to know the young performers and heard stories about their lives, rife with the typical dangers and excitement of inner city poverty. Their tales were of close calls with the police and drug gangs, memories of incarcerated or deceased siblings, the manifold challenges of getting enough food to eat, clothes to wear and a safe enough place to sleep at night while constantly maintaining the street-wise appearance of ease. They spent long afternoons under the hot tent, striving to maintain balance on the tightrope and the trapeze, and they laughed about the inadequacies of the school system, the elusive nature of perception and reality, their complex social networks and the seductive appeal of the drug trade. I laughed with them as we sweated through our push-ups side-by-side, and the first sparks of the project that would become WITHOUT A NET began to flicker.
Kelly J Richardson