How carnival beats the drum for tolerance

Cork-born documentary maker Kate Hardie Buckley, centre, in Brazil filming for an Unreported World episode that will be shown on Channel 4 tonight.

Cork documentary maker Kate Hardie Buckley was in Brazil to film the changing dynamic for the country’s LGBT community, writes Ellie O’Byrne

Going to Brazil for the Carnival festival is a bucket-list dream for many travellers, but Cork documentary-maker Kate Hardie Buckley had bigger and more serious fish to fry. She was there to shoot a piece on the life for the country’s LGBT community since the rise of new president Jair Bolsonaro. It will be shown tonight as part of Channel 4’s Unreported World series.

Starting as “an intern at the bottom of the food chain”, Buckley has climbed the ladder since her early days on Unreported World; she’s shot and directed episodes on Mongolian air pollution with Louis Theroux’s brother Marcel, one on the Irish abortion referendum, and a surreal glimpse into the world of South Korean reality TV shows, for which she won a Foreign Press Association Award and was nominated for a British Journalism Award.

Buckley’s route into TV journalism wasn’t straightforward. 

Although her extended family live in Cork, she had a “nomadic upbringing,” living in France, the UK and Spain. She got a degree in International Relations from the University of St Andrew’s in Scotland before her love of the very Channel 4 series she now works on led to her pursuing an MA in Journalism in London, where she’s still based.

As well as shooting, directing and producing, Buckley has been sinking her teeth into reporting roles, with her first ever foray taking her back onto home turf to cover West Cork’s vibrant food culture for an episode of the BBC Travel Show.

“It was a wonderful introduction to reporting. We got to work from my parents’ home in Crookhaven, and it was delightful to showcase Cork in this beautiful way,” she says, although, true to form, there was space for deeper socio-political context: she shot the piece to coincide with last year’s Skibbereen-based Famine commemorations, allowing her to juxtapose West Cork’s current position as Ireland’s artisan food capital with its far darker past as the scene of some of the worst of the Great Hunger.

Stepping in front of the camera, she says, took a little getting used to: “Reporting is adding another string to my bow, but being in front of the camera is also adding to my skill as a director. I’m directing my reporters differently now that I know what it’s like. I’m probably more patient with them!”

Since Bolsonaro took office, divisions in Brazilian society centred on his Social Liberal Party’s conservative stance have seemed to mimic experiences in Trump-era America: the party’s emphasis on traditional family values may have populist support in some circles, but for the South American country’s LGBT community, it has sparked a wave of fear and reports of an increase in homophobic attacks.

Possibly no surprise, then, that the first Carnival festival of Bolsonaro’s presidency was seized on as an opportunity to fight back. In Sao Paolo, the four-day party, always an LGBT friendly event, became a colourful monument to LGBT visibility and Buckley was on hand to capture the spectacle, and political divisions.

Working with presenter Seji Rhodes, Buckley focused on both sides of the story in the lead-up to Carnival, filming with lesbian rapper Luana Hansen and her partner Gracia, who fear the impact of the political shift on their non-traditional family, and Congressman Gil Diniz, a fervent supporter of the new president, with close ties to the Bolsonaro family. “My understanding of Brazil was as an open, tolerant, diverse society that was quite sexually liberated,” Buckley says.

I knew there was a conservative movement, but I didn’t realise how fragile the LGBT community were out there. A member of the LGBT community is murdered every 16 hours: that’s quite a shock.

What Buckley’s team found was, she says, a paradoxical world where LGBT visibility was being celebrated with defiance and an accompanying sense of danger.

“I saw lots of very happy lesbian, gay and transgender couples in their element in Sau Paulo, kissing in restaurants and walking around holding hands. There seemed to be a lot of LGBT people out, loud and proud, but when you speak to them, you might hear that they or their partner has been attacked or a friend has committed suicide. There was a feeling that they were now under siege.”

Unreported World: Carnival Wars, directed by Kate Hardie Buckley, is on Unreported World on Channel 4 tonight at 7.30pm

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