July 14, 2008 / 10:28 PM / 10 years ago

Brazil "Elite Squad" director puts lens on poor

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Jose Padilha, whose movie “The Elite Squad” depicted Rio de Janeiro’s violent, corrupt cops, turns his camera toward another form of injustice in a new documentary about poverty in Brazil’s northeast.

Director Jose Padilha addresses a news conference to present his Brazilian film 'Tropa de elite' (The elite squad) running in the competition at the 58th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, February 11, 2008. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Despite an economic boom that has helped lift millions out of poverty, more than 10 million Brazilians still live in danger of hunger, many of them in remote areas far from the “modern Brazil” of world-class companies and rising wealth.

Padilha, 40, told Reuters in an interview that he wanted to give life to such statistics with an intimate, simple portrait of three families from the northeast state of Ceara and their daily struggle to feed themselves.

In contrast to the jolting brutality and fast-paced action of “Elite Squad,” the documentary “Garapa” was shot with hand-held cameras in black and white and will have no music.

“I wanted to make a film as simply as possible, with a minimum of allegories and information apart from the families’ stories,” Padilha said.

“I think it makes whoever is watching think ‘Ah, I’m watching something in black and white, it must be very old.’ And then they watch and see that it is today.”

The film marks a return to the documentary form for the 40-year-old Rio native, one of Brazil’s new generation of filmmakers who has tackled the country’s darker side in all three of his movies.

His first documentary “Bus 174” followed the chaotic police response and violent background to a Rio bus hijacking, while the Berlin Film Festival-winning “Elite Squad” — due for U.S. release in September — stirred a bitter debate over policing of Rio’s drug-plagued slums.

Padilha said the idea for “Garapa” — the name of a solution made from sugar and water that poor children drink due to a lack of milk — came to him four years ago with the expansion of a family welfare program by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The “Bolsa Familia” program has been hailed as a success and copied by other developing countries, but Padilha’s film shows that some families have fallen between the cracks.

One of the three families in the documentary, due for its Brazil release in September, could not access the program due to a lack of documentation.

Padilha said that he had done “a pile of things” to help the families after the filming, adding that it had been hard but necessary to stand by without assisting them while making the movie.

“The important thing is to know that families in this situation exist ... to mobilize people to try to end hunger,” he said.

Padilha is already working on another documentary about foreign anthropologists’ work with the Amazon’s Yanomami indians in the late 1960s and has two other movies planned — one about the Vale Tudo combat sport and another about the financing of Brazilian politicians.

A scene from film maker Jose Padilha's black and white movie "Garapa", due for its Brazil release on September 2008, is seen in this undated handout. REUTERS/Handout

Writing by Stuart Grudgings; editing by Philip Barbara

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