Era o Hotel Cambridge (2017) / The Cambridge Squatter: A Fictional Documentary on Urban Okupation

I again revisit issues of homelessness and housing evictions, this time focusing on a different cultural production from Brazil. The film Era o Hotel Cambridge (2017) is a recent fictional documentary on occupations in the city of São Paulo, Brazil, that analyzes some of the issues in urban housing and private accumulation of interest to those working with urban studies and Latin-American Studies. Translated as The Cambridge Squatter, by the Brazilian cineast Eliane Caffé, the work narrates the period after the bankruptcy and closure of Hotel Cambridge, when rooms and common areas were occupied by homeless individuals from all over. The documentary combines professional actors and real occupants of the building. A prominent feature is its gaze on the lives of immigrants and refugees inside the hotel, as well as an empathetic look on the lives of families and the elderly.

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A initial shot establishes the center of São Paulo as the physical space where the occupied building is located. In it we see constant reference to Human rights of housing, and a discussion of specific issues affecting immigrants. There are several scenes of foreigners communicating with their families back home. It also documents some of the ways these occupants try to make a living in the informal economy.

In the constant references to the negotiations of urban space, there is clear defense of the political movement “Frente de Luta por Moradia (FLM)” (Front of the Fight for Housing), a collective of different social movement groups seeking fairer urban development and more prompt solutions for the issue of homelessness in urban centers in Brazil.

We should revisit the study by Vilaseca (2013) on the impact of Okupas on global urban activism, focusing on the Barcelona movement dating back to 1997.  There are similarities to consider, showing the power of capital in creating spaces of exclusion in unoccupied areas of urban speculation. At the same time, both examples show new ways of resistance, giving that space new social signification.

As affirmed by Merrifield (2014), “Every Revolution Has Its Agora,” pointing out the concern that revolutionary political acts need to have space for public discussions. In the Spanish context, in the aftermath of the financial crisis there were generalized acts of protest and a general understanding that the political situation had to change, not only from marginalized peoples, but with support from a large fraction of the middle-class. In that context, we witnessed a series of anti-eviction platforms created due to the generalized feeling of helplessness. what we see in this case in São Paulo is the existence of overlooked groups of people: those occupied buildings are ignored, while the legal precautions are fought in a judicial, often invisible sphere. Most urban population, not involved in political activism, will consider those situations as best left ignored or handled by the government without interference. São Paulo is, as a matter of fact, a city with an intense history of gentrification: despite its high rank as a South-American economy, it is a urban space that puts a lot of pressure on low and low-middle classes, evidently serving a transnational financial and corporate elite.

 

Works Cited:

Merrifield, Andy. The New Urban Question. New York: PlutoPress, 2014.

 

Villaseca, Stephen. Barcelonan Okupas: Squatter Power! Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson, 2013.

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