‘Balomania,’ About Brazil’s ‘Balloon Mafia,’ Boarded by Cargo, Trailer Debuts (EXCLUSIVE)

New York-based doc specialist Cargo Film & Releasing has acquired “Balomania,” which will have its world premiere in the main competition at leading European doc fest CPH:DOX on March 15. Variety is debuting the trailer (below).

“Balomania” is Danish filmmaker Sissel Morell Dargis’ debut feature and will join Cargo’s lineup of award-contending non-fiction including SXSW and TUBI Original “Satan Wants You” and Academy Award-shortlisted film “Hidden Letters.”

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“Like one of the balloon chasers in ‘Balomania,’ we’ve been tracking Sissel Morell Dargis’ film through its production, and now we’re thrilled to be partnering with House of Real and Polar Star Films. We expect this title to fly high throughout the world, and we think audiences will love this soaring, personal exploration of an underground art form,” said Cargo Film & Releasing vice president Daniel Cantagallo.

Shot over more than a decade and narrated by Dargis in perfect Portuguese, the film tells the story of a secret society of giant hot air balloon makers and chasers in Brazil’s favelas, the “baloeiros,” who risk everything to create, fly and hunt their illegal masterpieces, some of which are over 70 meters (230 feet) high and require more than 100 men to be launched into the air.

Dargis, who moved to Brazil at the age of 19, gained access to the balloon gangs through friends in the graffiti community. She met what she describes as a brotherhood, who see balloon art as their cultural heritage – and there was no turning back: she was hooked.

While authorities have banned balloon activities because of the threat they pose to public safety and the environment, Dargis believes there is a deeper explanation for this ban, which has simply pushed the activity underground.

“It’s a symbolic act – everything about the balloons is so symbolic that even the repression becomes symbolic: it’s an art form for people who don’t have access to art, who don’t have access in general. Theoretically, the authorities have good reasons to ban it: it is dangerous. The question is how they ban it and why they need AK47s and helicopters and dozens of police cars – why does it need to be treated as if it were drug trafficking?,” she asks of the brutal repression against the baloeiros, which can lead to several years in jail.

The answer, she says, is that it’s easier to target a community that has no voice to defend itself, and to define a common enemy in a society that is tired of gang warfare and corruption.

As the community gradually learnt to trust her and let her in, she realized she was their hope of documenting this culture and changing the way it is perceived.

“My dream was to make a film that would get some international positive recognition, to challenge the way people see the baloeiros, which could hopefully create a positive effect,” she tells Variety.

With this in mind, Dargis attended film school in Cuba and then in Copenhagen to learn filmmaking. This is where she also learnt how to make video games. As she grew frustrated with the time-consuming nature of documentary filmmaking, she decided to also create a game set in the real, balloon-making world.

“Real life is intriguing; you will stumble upon worlds that look like games. I thought: why don’t we create a game that is interlaced with the documentary world, instead of fantasy or zombie worlds where you must be violent to win? So, I put the balloon world in a game where you release balloons, chase them, and where all the characters are real characters [from my documentary film]. Young people travel into [this world], and when they see that it is real life, that’s very powerful.

Entitled “Cai Cai Balão,” it was nominated for Best Student Game at the 2022 Independent Games Festival Awards in San Francisco. While she appreciates that documentary films and video games don’t necessarily cater to the same audience, Dargis says she believes it is possible to weave an ethical narrative into an exciting game.

“There are so many important games we can make. Documentaries can inspire, enlighten and inform, but so can games: they can entertain but also teach you something about a different culture.


“Imagine you’re playing a game where you must cross the Mexican border: it’s just as exciting as any ‘GTA’ or ‘Counter-Strike’ but it’s real life – imagine the effect on young people if they had to play what it’s like being a refugee or being persecuted by the police?” she says, adding: “I am hoping that with this film, people will see that we can make both documentaries and games to reach different audiences: they can go hand in hand. They can be told in different ways, but the essence is the same.”

“Balomania” is produced by House of Real in co-production with Spanish Polar Star Films.

CPH:DOX runs in and around the Danish capital Copenhagen from March 13 through 24.

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