Laurence Griffiths is a Sports Photographer for Getty Images and he was a recipient of the Getty Images Editorial Fellowship. With the countdown on to the World Cup 2014 in Rio, Laurence wanted to document football in Brazil to show what it means to the people in the favelas there. He used his grant to produce a short film on street football in Brazil and shares his experiences.

When the news came through that I’d been selected for a Getty Images Editorial Fellowship, I was ecstatic and then the full scale of the task started to hit home.

With the World Cup approaching, I had submitted a project idea which would focus on street football in Brazil. I’d enjoyed photographing the kids of the townships in South Africa at the last tournament and I really wanted to explore the legendary passion for football in the favelas around Rio De Janeiro.

I’d put together my proposal for a multimedia piece. It involved a short film and a photo essay. I have to admit, I had sat at home with a glass of wine or two as I wrote my ideas down and I may have got a little carried away. All of a sudden the difficulties of planning a film (a medium I was still getting to grips with), in a notoriously dangerous place (which I’d never even been to) on the other side of the world was an overwhelming thought.

I think that’s the point of the Fellowship however, to take us out of our comfort zone and challenge us. And it certainly did. When I finally arrived in Rio I couldn’t foresee the adventure that lay ahead. From the top of this spectacular city to the bottom – the famous Christ the Redeemer statue to Ipanema beach and everywhere in between, I spent 7 days relentlessly capturing as much of the different layers of Rio life as I could.

I met incredible people (some much more intimidating than others) and saw a side of Rio that is rarely seen. I hope you enjoy the video and photographs as much as I enjoyed shooting them.

The story behind the video:

The final whistle blew in the Maracana Stadium. I’d just shot Brazil v England, it had been a glamorous opening for this refurbished old stadium. Global superstars performing in front of a privileged crowd, but it was time now for me to start work filming my Getty Images Editorial Fellowship film on a different type of football, street football in the famous Rio de Janiero favelas. It had been a long time in the planning and I couldn’t wait.

Needless to say, the next day I woke up to flat grey skies and a lot of rain. This wasn’t the Rio I’d hoped for. I made contact with my fixer, Joe, a guide with local knowledge that could safely get me into the favelas to film. With the terrible weather we decided to check out locations and look for people with stories to tell.

Kids intoxicated on horseback
Arriving at the Sao Carlos favelas was intimidating. All eyes were on us and I relied on Joe to pave the way for us to work. Sao Carlos was vast, a huge network of paths and alleys spread over the side of a mountain. Kids were riding around on horseback and intoxicated, rowdy locals ranted in my direction. There were a lot of steep climbs as car access was impossible. Carrying up enough equipment to shoot stills and film was tiring and it was hard to stay positive with the weather and knowing I had only a week to produce my work.

We were looking around when a local man told us about a football pitch, or ‘court’ higher up the hill. When we arrived, for the first time the clouds broke around the famous old Christ the Redeemer statue and it looked spectacular. I hadn’t seen it in the days before as I was rushing around covering the England team and it really lifted my spirits. I got a lovely frame with the clouds swirling around it. I guess with a city like Rio you don’t need the weather to find great pictures.

Keeping watch with a gun
On day three, the skies were still heavy with cloud as we travelled out of the city to meet up with William, an ex drug trafficker. The traffickers run the favelas and he was also the ex boss of the Vila Nova Favela. Willam is now working with the [Ibiss] project to give kids an opportunity to escape the drug gangs. On arrival we had to wait. I couldn’t get any cameras out as we’d spotted a drug gang member keeping watch with a gun. The area didn’t look very photogenic either as it was next to a bus depot. All of a sudden loud bangs rang out. I immediately assumed it was gun fire but Joe informed me drug gangs use firecrackers as a warning when police or strangers are around. We didn’t know if it was us or police causing the fuss until someone ran out, dropped a package and promptly ran off as fast as he arrived.

William arrived and told us that because of the activity there was no chance we were going to be able to film inside. William told us how dangerous life is for kids in there and how important football is to them, it’s their only escape. I could now see what he meant.

From beach to mountain top
Blue skies greeted me when I woke up the next day. I headed off to all the locations I’d scouted. Rio’s mountains cast shadows over the favelas so some were best to shoot in the morning and others in the afternoon. We covered a lot of ground, looking for groups of kids playing, from beach to mountain top.

We couldn’t plan too much and had to just go with the flow on most days. I still felt like I was a bit behind schedule as we hadn’t had a good full day shooting and I was half way through the week.

Football helped him recover
Day five went much better, we met Sem. Sem had lost his arm as a nine year old when he was flying kites under a power pylon. Much to my amazement kids still flew kites near the pylons, you could even see the occasional kite hanging off the cables. Two things struck me from speaking to Sem, the first was how proud he was of where he came from, he took me all around Sao Carlos, pointing all the places he liked to play football. The other was how much football had helped him recover mentally and physically from his injury. He played every day in all weathers with his friends and nothing would ever stop him. He showed a great court which features heavily in the film and told me to come back weekend when it would be packed.

The world the kids grew up in
The next day we headed to Banju to interview another Ibiss project football coach, Andre. I filmed him coaching the kids and afterwards he told me the week before a fire fight had broken out by the pitch and everyone had to abandon the session to run for cover.

Sure enough a couple of minutes later a car screeched up and five men burst out shouting at us in Portuguese. I’d spent a lot of time in favelas now and I was fine with this part, it was the assault rifles they were brandishing that really worried me. Joe calmed them down, he told them we were doing a film on the social project, they weren’t impressed. They left as soon as they’d arrived in a hail of Portuguese swear words which were preferable at least, to a hail of bullets. Joe assured me they were just trying to scare us and I assured Joe they’d succeeded.

We left pretty soon afterwards. It was another reminder of the terrible world the kids grow up in. At least in a few days time I’d be back at home covering the local county cricket match, for these, it was life.

A labyrinth of streets
My last interview and the first man you hear in the film is Maga. He was a friend of Joe and he helped us out all week. Carrying bags, speaking to locals, stopping us getting shot(!) and even taking us to a hip-hop night in his favela, Prazeres.

We discovered a man gravely ill and needing help urgently. Maga carried the man down through all the labyrinth of streets on his back. It took an hour and eventually he was taken to hospital. It showed how much Maga cared about the people of the favelas. His brother had been shot dead after becoming mixed up in a drug gang and Maga had taken on his 6 kids while also working hard to build a book shop business. He loved his music and was a real inspiration while I was out there. I realized I had to incorporate what he had to say in the film and I loved what his line about the beautiful and ugly side of Rio. Tragically, his book shop burnt down during the week and he was devastated. He didn’t deserve such bad luck.

By the end of the week I was really exhausted but happy with the footage I’d gathered. Alongside that I had interviews with the people I’d met and couldn’t wait to get home to edit it all together.

Photo courtesy of Laurence Griffiths
Photo courtesy of Laurence Griffiths

Editor’s Note: Laurence Griffiths is one of four recipients of the internally awarded Getty Images Editorial Fellowship. The Editorial Fellowship offers staff photographers the opportunity to have a proposed project funded by Getty Images.

Watch more videos from Laurence Griffiths here.