Over the years, the Olympic opening ceremonies have devolved into obscene pageantry, but tonight’s might be worth watching. Its director, Fernando Meirelles was behind City of God–one of the most brutally honest films about what it was like to come of age in Rio’s violent favelas.
“These are spectacles designed more than anything else to sell the country,” film historian Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz told Wired. “Brazil has to show a really good face on that opening day. That makes the choice of Meirelles terribly important, as someone who knows his way around gritty subject matter.”
Meirelles’s vision for the event is to showcase a “synthesis of [Brazil’s] popular culture.” Recognizing that it would be inappropriate to spend lavish amounts of money on production design–the country’s economy is ailing–he’s opting to do more with people than physical props. Some 12,000 volunteers will be involved, but the budget will be slim. “It will be 10 times smaller than for the London 2012 opening ceremony,” Meirelles said last year in a statement about the show. “It does not make sense to be extravagant in this moment that the country is facing. It will not be a high-tech ceremony, it will be high-concept.”
For the Sochi winter games in 2014, Russia tapped George Tsypin, a production designer known for his work on Broadway musicals. Danny Boyle, the blockbuster filmmaker, directed the 2012 London Olympics opener, which had over 7,500 cast members. China spent an estimated $100 million on the Beijing Summer Olympics ceremony in 2008, which translates to $476,000 per minute.
Assuming Meirelles holds true to his plan for a high-concept–not high-tech–production, we can safely assume he’ll do away with any saccharine pomp and circumstance, and deliver a thoughtful telling of Brazil’s history and contemporary condition.
Tune into NBC at 7:30 p.m. ET, or stream it at nbcolympics.com.