Films A to Z

Atos dos Homens

75 min.
Year of Production:
Brasilien / Deutschland
Production Company:
Paleo TV, São Paulo; Plateau Produções, São Paulo
Berlinale Section:
Berlinale Category:
Documentary Film

ACTS OF MEN should have been a film about the daily lives of massacre survivors in Brazil. Everything was planned for us to start shooting in April 2005. But reality did not wait. On the last day of March, exactly one month before shooting was scheduled to begin, things changed: A terrible massacre took place in Baixada Fluminense, near the city of Rio de Janeiro. Twenty-nine people were killed by a death squad, the largest massacre in the history of Rio de Janeiro. The killers are extermination groups made up of policemen who work in the area, and who are involved in extortions, kidnapping, drug dealing and homicide. This has been going on since the 1950s, but it has never been as extreme as it is today. The film is organized in four parts: Daily Life in Baixada Fluminense shows footage of residents of the town that suggests it was shot before the massacre; in reality, it was shot afterwards. The Massacre describes the carnage and the feelings it provoked. Death Squads deals with the killing commandos in the area and includes an interview with a professional assassin. Daily Life 2 shows the people in Baixada Fluminense and their attempts to process what they have experienced.

(Kiko Goifman)

Director’s statement
I am an anthropologist and have been exploring the topic of violence in Brazil for fourteen years. Unfortunately, violence is one of the keys to understanding contemporary societies. This is especially true for the situation in Brazil. (...) Because the footage was shot shortly after the events in question, many people were afraid to show their faces. So for ethical and aesthetic reasons, I decided to make the screen pure white in these moments. In the first edit, the statements of the hired killer could still be heard against a black screen, while the screen was white when the relatives of the victims spoke. Good was white and evil black. But then I decided for the blindness of white and for the unpleasant feeling of sitting in a bright movie theater while the hired killer speaks – the exact opposite of the usually dark theater. (...) It would have been simpler to place the “good guys” in front of a white screen and the
“bad guys” in front of a black screen, but I don’t believe in these simple contrasts. (...)

There is no music in ACTS OF MEN. The sound was processed to emphasize some elements of the original sound on tape. In some cases, we amplifi ed and falsified the original tone. This created an atmosphere that seeks to involve the viewers by letting them hear people’s footsteps and other background noises in some scenes. The only important change made to the sound is when the massacre is announced. For three minutes, the screen is completely white and the names of those who died in the massacre can be read. At no time do the images in ACTS OF MEN seek to be beautiful. The camera trembles; we often filmed without a tripod. Such situations make it clear how afraid the whole crew was because it was here at this moment. The images were hardly altered in post-production. I did not want to shoot war footage that relies on violent images and circumstances that are important, but only briefly. (...) I knew that it would be many months before an audience would see the film I was making. War correspondence is not interested in what happens on the margins, for example the life of a transvestite. I was interested in the people who live in this region and some of whom did not even stand in any particular relationship to this massacre. Reportage is characterized by heightened interest in the visible – and not in phantasmagoric white and invisibility.

Interview with the director
Question: What impressions are you bringing from Baixada Fluminense?

Kiko Goifman: In 21st-century Brazil, there is a city between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo where death is the customary way to resolve all kinds of confl icts. What remains invisible in my film is the pressure the local elite put on me because they did not want me to focus on the violence in Baixada Fluminense. They say there is no violence there, or they complain that this one side of the place is what is always shown. I perceived a tremendous desire in these people to “hide the sun with one’s finger“. Talks with the people who live in Baixada Fluminense made it clear to me that people who live in a place of such violence want to return to normal life as quickly as possible.

Question: Why were people who didn’t want to show their faces still willing to speak in the film?

K.G.: The people there are aware that the massacre must not be forgotten. The need to speak was much stronger than the vanity we documentary fi lmmakers encounter so often.

Question: And why did the hired killer speak?

K.G.: His thinking follows a very clear logic: If you accept the standpoint that the police do nothing and that society must therefore assume their function, then he is a hero, a protector. He does not see himself as a criminal. The only reason he doesn’t want to show his face is that he knows what he is doing is illegal.

Question: In the film, you mention your own fear. Was it a diffuse fear, or did it have concrete causes?

K.G.: I was afraid the whole time. The moment you decide to eliminate fear by working with a hidden camera, you’ve lost. A hidden camera makes the work easier and saves time, but in the criminal milieu it is betrayal.

From: Folha Ilustrada, São Paulo, August 8, 2005

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