South American Cho-Low interview with Phuong-Cac Nguyen and Alfredo Ritta by Mark MacInnis

I’ve known Alfredo Ritta for over 10 years, he’s introduced me to spaghetti western films and yerba maté. Most recently he’s introduced me to the low-rider culture in Brazil through his and director, Phuong-Cac Nguyen’s (PC), latest documentary film, SOUTH AMERICAN CHO-LOW – a short documentary that examines the meeting point between cholo style and low-rider culture in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

I had the pleasure of asking him and director, PC, some questions about the film over some yerba maté at Casbah cafe in Los Angeles, CA.

This film hits you with amazing powerful Brazilian music right of the bat. Who did the music?

The music is really important and we wanted to show that they have musical groups that appeal to the scene in Sao Paulo and ultimately become part of the culture there. Some of the musicians are low-riders themselves and we even open the film with a song by Alvos Da Lei; they’re very involved in the scene over there.

South American Cholo

After making this film what are your thoughts on globalization?

It’s exciting to see all this happening but also kind of sad. You know some people feel very possessive over their scene or subculture and don’t like that someone in some foreign country is stealing their style. But you can’t fence off a lifestyle. In the film we learn that through American films, magazines and the internet our cast deciphered the low-rider way and the Chicano lifestyle. We are living in a global community and American subculture is a huge export. The Brazilians were very careful to get it right and respect the culture and to live by it completely while adding to it their own Brazilian twist.

Alemao-01-1-1024x576What are your plans on with this film? How can someone see it if they can’t make it to Detroit?

The film is screening around the world at cultural events and film festivals. We hope to bring it to a general audience via Hulu, iTunes and other digital platforms. They can stay informed by visiting the Facebook page and site

How has the American lowrider scene received the film?

The low-rider community stateside have been blown away by the accuracy and talent of the Brazilian low-riders. And when they learn that it is very expensive to own a car or a bicycle in Sao Paulo, they have even more respect for what those guys and girls in Brazil are doing.

You mentioned girls, so are there women low-riders?

Yes. And we feature a woman that made her own low-rider bike and it’s pretty impressive. Her bike club visits the favelas (ghettos) and teach children to stay away from crime and drugs and introduce them to the positive lifestyle of low-rider bikes and it’s family culture. We make it a point in the film to note that the Brazilians adopted everything from Chicano culture except the violence and gang affiliations. It’s a peaceful positive message they share.

What was the reaction from the people on the street?Cholo 3

PC: The lowrider cruise was filmed very late at night into the morning hours, so we didn’t get to see much reaction from the public. The low-riders said they purposely do their cruises in the evening hours so they don’t cause traffic problems by becoming a distraction for other drivers. With that, they also could minimize any risk of getting into an accident. However, at the low-rider events I’ve been to in Sao Paulo, the public’s reaction isn’t unlike what you see here in LA — people want to see the cars up close and understand the details and work that went into the customization and mechanics.


This film makes me want tattoos. Did you get any while making this film?

Alfredo: no tattoos but one of the cast members GORDO, is a tattoo artist and he made the movie title for us.

It takes a lot of trust for someone to let you into their world and tell their story. How did you gain access and trust?

PC: It took me a few years to find the right person to lead me into the Brazilian low-rider world. I had made a few half-attempts a couple of years before, but was working on my Sao Paulo guidebook on the time, so I couldn’t pursue any leads. This time around, when I mentioned the idea of writing about Brazilian low-riders to my dear friend, William Baglione, photographer and artist manager in Sao Paulo, he told me he was good friends with one of the guys. That guy turned out to be Luiz Gordo. I am indebted to William for helping spur this project into action.

What challenges did you face?

Alfredo: When we were working on post-production, some of the clubs bristled at the fact that their rivals were also being featured in the film, so we had to deal with that. Also, we were very happily surprised by the interest in the film, so we wanted to add a few more bells and whistles that we didn’t originally consider before because we thought we’d just release the film on YouTube so we had to get creative and find people who could help us deliver that vision.


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Mark MacInnis @markmacinnis