I occasionally find some interesting programs to watch on the Sundance channel and City of Men (Cidade dos Homens), a mini-series about two boys living in the slums (favelas) of Rio de Janeiro was a gem that left me wanting more.
The series is a sequel of sorts to 2002's City of God (Cidade de Deus) which shows the rise of the drug trade in Rio in the 60's and 70's. City of God is gansta movie with a bunch of black kids running around doing wrong, but it feels very different than the typical urban American fare we've been seeing for the past twenty years. Besides the fact that the characters in the movie are speaking Portuguese, these kids are really poor. They put the "p" in poverty. Not "I only got basic cable and one pair of sneakers" poor. These kids from the favelas are "I gotta bathe in a public fountain because we have no plumbing in my entire neighborhood" poor. That's a reality check for some folks.
The protagonists of City of Men are two cute 13 year-old boys, Acerola and Laranjinha, who seem really small for their age. Perhaps they're small because, unlike their American counterparts, they can't simply walk to the local McDonalds and say, "Super size me" whenever they get hunger pangs. A 99 cents extra value meal is beyond their reach.
We never see their parents, though Laranjinha's mother works somewhere that takes her away from home for long periods of time. Maybe she's a domestic. Maybe she's a whore. Both boys are apparently being raised by their grandmothers.
We follow the boys on their adventures in their ghetto. The things they want and need are so simple it seems alien. In the premier episode the boys want to go on a field trip to a museum, but they can't scrape together the measly $6 (!) fee. In another episode Acerola's sister becomes the girlfriend of the neighborhood's chief drug dealer and Acerola is ecstatic when the drug lord gives him a used pair of sneakers. In a Tom Sawyer-ish endeavor in another episode the boys make a map of the favela and name the streets to solve the problem of getting the post office to deliver mail to everyone. In an episode that steps outside of the favela, Laranjinha's life is contrasted with that of a middle class white kid who also lives with his single mom and worries about his disintegrating friendships.
Sundance only showed the first four episodes of City of Men, but according to the BBC site there are nine episodes. I hope they air the rest soon.