The Ninjas at the bottom of the garden

Meeting in Ninja HQ

“Things have changed,” said Felipe Altenfelder as we pulled out of the airport carpark. “You’ll notice some differences.”

I’d arrived in São Paulo to start work on a documentary film about Fora do Eixo – the network of independent music collectives I’d become fascinated with over the past few years. This is a group of mostly young people spread around this continent-sized country, who have organised their own separate economy – putting on festivals, distributing records through live gigs, and using principles of solidarity economy, communal living and political activism in order to make independent music sustainable.

For someone like me, this is fascinating stuff.

“We’re still doing the music, of course…”

That’s a relief. I’d just flown for 11 hours and spent thousands of someone else’s pounds on getting this far.

“It’s just that now we’re quite busy with the revolution.”

He said this so matter-of-factly, I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly. Turns out I had. They are quite busy with the revolution.

Felipe and some of his Fora do Eixo colleagues have been instrumental in setting up Midia Ninja – an underground, alternative media organisation that provides grassroots coverage of the protests and riots happening around the country. Some of these protests are about FIFA taking over public spaces and privatising them (not to mention ripping out all of the trees) for the World Cup, some to do with the Pope’s visit – most to do with the political and social direction that Brazil seems to be heading.

Midia Ninja is already at the heart of the citizen journalism movement in Brazil – and is a spin off from Fora do Eixo. Although it’s already spread across 200 cities around the country, the NINJA headquarters are in a large outbuilding at the back of Casa Fora do Eixo, where I’m currently staying here in São Paulo.

Like so much of what they do, these guys are having an enormous impact. In this case, the impact is on the field of journalism. And like so much of what they do, they’re having that impact on a budget of precisely zero.

There’s a fascinating blog post (in English) about Midia Ninja that was written two days ago, and updated yesterday to include the fact that co-founder Filipe Peçanha was arrested because his live coverage of the Papal visit to Rio was “inciting violence”.

This Guardian article also talks about Midia Ninja.

And here’s video of Filipe ‘inciting violence’ (with the beard and the checked shirt).

Read more about the documentary I’m making and my time here in Brazil.

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