Copacabana -- The Search for Happiness

Copacabana, the most famous beach in Rio de Janeiro, is a dream destination with an incredible draw -- the myth of a carefree life, sun, sand and sea. Director Thomas Wartmann presents a colourful procession of people who have sought and found happiness on the Copacabana ...

Most come to flirt. Pedro Aguinaga, man about town and ex-chaperone to Liza Minelli and Tina Onassis, has always lived along the four kilometre long bay known as the "Little Sea Princess". The only thing that's changed over the decades is the fashions: today everyone is "practically naked already" -- but that's only made the flirting easier. Pedro loves the democratic nature of the beach: "just bathing trunks, no shirt, and we're all equal: the banker, the thief, the beggar - everyone's the same."

Copacabana was once nothing but a sleepy fishing village on the outskirts of the Brazilian capital. At the beginning of the 20th century, visitors mainly came here for the air, which was rich in saltpetre. It was the 5-star hotel "Copacabana Palace" that changed the game, bringing glitz and glamour, as well as overcrowding. In the potpourri of cultures on the beach in front of the hotel in the 1950s, a new kind of music emerged and took the world by storm: bossa nova. Looking after the guests of the hotel, day in, day out, is Pavarotti, the singing binman. He regards keeping the space before the main entrance to the hotel clean for actors, presidents and kings as his life's work.

For most Rio residents, happiness is synonymous with beauty. Every day is a chance to tan and tone one's body at the beach. Cosmetic surgery is de rigueur, the key to money and luxury -- or so thinks Mayra, at any rate, who advertises her escort service on the internet. The pull of money and luxury is too great to resist for others as well: Copacabana is a hot zone in more ways than one. The police and armed forces have their hands full here 24/7. Boxer Claudio Coelho found his own way to combat the criminality: in one of Copacabana's Favelas, he founded a boxing school that has helped countless kids get off the streets. Here they can unload their aggression through sports.

The last night of every year is traditionally spent by Cariocas, as Rio's inhabitants are known, on the Copacabana -- dressed in white, for the biggest New Year's party on earth. For Jorge -- the "Garimpeiro", or gold-digger, as he's known -- that makes January 1 the best day of the year. For 38 years he has supported his family with the things that others lose on the beach. Happiness, Jorge says, is there for everyone. You just have to tough it out and keep on searching.

Documentary, 43 Minutes, 2010
Directed by: Thomas Wartmann
Camera: Volker Tittel
Montage: Verena Schönauer
Editing: Ulrike Becker, SWR