In his quest for a bright blue Picolé (ice lolly), a bright-eyed Brazilian boy whizzes through the narrow back streets of Minas Gerais’ favelas by bike, powered by a dream that his situation only just allows him.

A Brazilian boy wakes with a dream of a cool blue ice lolly. Down the steep back streets of his favela home, a hot pink ice cream parlour awaits with the antidote to yet another heatwave. So on his bright yellow bike he hops, cycling juddery and rapid through the ‘ghetto hills’ – past brick dwellings with corrugated iron roofs, barking dogs and speeding scooters that he just about manages miss – to the Picolé of his wildest fantasies.

Part dreamscape, part stark reality, director Jan Vrhovnik’s Picolé holds a magnifying glass over just one life in Brazil’s 11-million-resident-strong favelas. It is a film of contrasts, a classic tale of expectation versus reality and the inevitable lessons in life that childhood affords us all – set to an uplifting and moving soundtrack by João Taborda.

Through one boy on his journey for a coveted Picolé, the film reveals that favela living is more than just one of crime. It can be one of dreams.

Teaming up with the Seu Vizinho non-profit initiative that operates a School of Arts for favela residents, Jan worked with 11-year-old Tubarão (who lives in the heart of Aglomerado da Serra, Brazil’s 3rd largest favela, and is an active member of Seu Vizinho) as the main subject of his semi-autobiographical short.

Owing to lack of opportunities and realistic options, a high proportion of the young people living in favelas fall into the guiding hands of criminal gangs.Seu Vizinho is working to offer alternative paths. The aim for this project was to showcase the creative potential that can come from channelling the energies of the favelas’ youths in the arts.

The world of the film is not one of dirt, drudgery and menace. It is bright, innocent and hopeful. Moments that give pause, a brief scan of the endless favela rooftops and his mother’s voice warning not to go through ‘this alley’ almost hint at another route that the boy could take in life.

Instead, he cycles on and on, hopeful with his jar of saved-up coins and an expectant grin.

Director’s Statement

It started with a trip to see a friend. Rafael invited me to visit him in Brazil over the summer. Little did he know he was going to produce this film. Being fascinated by Brazil and having never been, my research began.

Inevitably, I ended up reading about favelas. Some of the facts completely floored me:

There are over 5 million children under the age of 13 living and working on the streets of Brazil. Collectively, approximately 20 million children live beneath the poverty line. The majority of these live on steep ‘ghetto hills’ – favelas – where the ever-growing inequality in Brazilian society has placed them. Due to lack of government initiative for employment and institutional ignorance of the favelas, criminal gangs operate within them as a pure necessity for survival.

The absence of healthcare, schooling and extracurricular activities has contributed to the growth of drug gangs. With few qualifications, and even fewer employment opportunities, young favela residents are often lured into the drug factions with at least the promise of regular pay.

It’s a vicious cycle. The illegal activity in the favelas results in violent and frequent police raids in which innocent kids are killed, caught in the cross-fire or simply put down as suspicious targets. To the police, all favela residents are criminals.

Compelled by what I found, I wanted to illustrate the innocence and naivety of youth possessed by these children through a story that will be understood beyond Brazil. Everyone can relate to the desire to devour an ice lolly in a long hot summer.

I believe that to get individuals to engage with real social and political issues on an emotional level, you have to present it to them through a relatable character and narrative. Understanding the true scale of inequality is difficult to digest in the news, but when told through the story of a boy using up all his savings to grab an ice lolly as a special treat, that’s more approachable.

I was lucky to team up with non-profit initiative Seu Vizinho, which operates in Brazil’s 3rd biggest favela, Aglomerado da Serra. The organisation is doing important work by engaging the favela youth in arts and culture, supporting their families and offering alternative paths to criminality. I was impressed by their program and wanted to promote their work.

During the process of making the film, I was compelled by the sense of community in the favela. The care for other residents felt overwhelming – something many people in first world nations have never experienced. The pride and love for the place they live is humbling. The children don’t appear to want to leave the favela, despite their shared fear of constant danger.

I’m hopeful this film shines a different light on the favela youth and encourages the national and international public to act on bringing about change.