Voices of the Favela: Gereba

Groundbreaking Virtual Reality Experience gives viewers an immersive insight into life on the edge.


  1. In June 2016, a team of 360 filmmakers, Virtual Reality (VR) developers, and scientists set out to capture life in the Gereba favela, Fortaleza, northeastern Brazil.
  2. Above: A tree casts a much-welcome shadow over one of Gereba's sunny streets. Photo: Maria Schewenius. All rights reserved.
  3. Around 828 million people live in slums and the numbers are rising. Slums, favelas, informal housing developments are overlapping concepts but not always synonymous, associated with areas that are often located in urban peripheries. What they all have in common is exclusion. Exclusion from people, networks and decision-making processes connected to the more affluent urban cores.
  4. Above: Cardboard, plywood and tarpaulin homes by the foot of the old landfill, facing the green edges lining the Cocó river below, and with a view of Fortaleza city centre's high-rise buildings. Photo: Maria Schewenius. All rights reserved.
  5. People living in low-income places like Gereba are often more directly dependent on local ecosystems than others. Daily, they are also exposed to global challenges discussed at Habitat III: climate change, environmental degradation, and urban policies that are poorly adapted to the current urban reality.
  6. Above: People come fishing for food in the Cocó river during the rainy season. Previously used for drinking water, the river is now too polluted to be used for virtually anything. Photo: Maria Schewenius. All rights reserved.
  7. Although largely invisible, the people are an intertwined part of the urban fabric. In Brazil for example, waste pickers play a crucial part of the country's recycling system.
  8. Above: The old landfill, now covered with sand and grass, is an iconic landmark in the favela. In front: the landing site for garbage on its way out. Photo: Maria Schewenius. All rights reserved.
  9. The majority of people living in Gereba are dependent on waste picking for their livelihoods. In the late 1970s, the old landfill attracted people seeking employment as waste pickers (catadores). Since it closed in the mid-90s, several recycling facilities have emerged in the area. Sorting and selling recyclable garbage supports some 400 people and their families.
  10. Above: one of the employees in a local workers' association for catadores carries a bag with plastic items that have been separated and are ready to be sold. Photo: Maria Schewenius. All rights reserved.
  11. Above: The FAC hosts a medicinal garden, a green oasis in the courtyard where the children tend to native plants of different medicinal properties. Photo by Maria Schewenius. All rights reserved.
  12. With the help of community leaders, we took a team of filmmakers into Gereba. Through the generosity of the people, we were invited to film in the streets, houses and recycling facilities. We visited the community centre, which is a vibrant cultural centre that holds ballet classes, capoeira lessons and community meetings. We also visited the local community fund (FAC) that each day welcomes around 100 children. Financed by private contributions, the FAC provides the children with schooling, supervision when the parents work, and meals.
  13. Above: David Betteridge, 360 Video Director of The Experience Machine sets up the camera.
  14. Using new groundbreaking technology by SceneThere, Voices of the Favela lets the viewer move around and freely explore the favela. Stories about the lives of people are told by the community. VR has been described as the empathy machine, connecting the viewer with the subject in a new way.
  15. Above: Marcus Olsson of SceneThere comes down from the first birds-eye view of the favela as seen from the top of the landfill. Here with Pedro (left) and Rodrigo (right).
  16. Above: Remembering to stay out of sight of the 360 camera proved more difficult than one would think. Local coordinator Janice Monteiro with David and Marcus. Photo: Maria Schewenius. All rights reserved.