Inspired by footage of police killing a bus hijacker, José Padilha’s ‘Elite Squad’ is the most viewed film in Brazil’s history (thanks to the country’s rampant piracy) and won the 2008 Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear. We met Padilha as he was finishing ‘Elite Squad II’.
“I was planning on doing other films when the whole Bus 174 thing happened [a young kid from the favelas held up a busload of people which was caught live on Brazilian TV]. I guess that was 10 years ago exactly. It took place right next to my house. So I couldn’t go back home because the roads were blocked.
I was at a gym, running on a treadmill, with one of those televisions that they have – right in front of it. So I watched an hour of it. And then I could not stop watching. For the whole weekend it was broadcast live. I felt very curious and started looking into who that guy was – which led me to make a documentary called Bus 174, which in turn led me to the Elite Squad guys – the BOPE, the special forces unit of Rio’s military police – the reality that those guys exist, and who they are.
The film routine is always the same, it doesn’t matter if you’re shooting in Hollywood or wherever. You’ve got to wake up early and work like crazy. On a typical day’s shooting, you wake up at 05.00. A car picks you up. You go for breakfast with the crew – then you get ready to shoot. You wait for the make-up, get the camera ready and try to roll as nicely as you can.
Then, after 12 hours of work, you’re tired so you go home and sleep and wake up the next morning at 05.00. When you change for night shooting, then it’s tough – then the routine is exactly the same except you take a pill before you sleep. But the crew on Elite Squad II are great. We have the best people. It’s a similar cast on this film to Elite Squad – anyone who did not die in that film is in this one! When we were shooting Elite Squad, a car filled with guns (blanks, which we were using for filming) was stolen. The drug dealers got nervous because the police raided a slum as a result. The dealers started to think that I might have called the police, which made it kind of tough for me to go to shoot in other slums. We got surrounded by armed drug dealers as we went back to the shoot.
Then, after the movie opened – or even before actually, because the film was so widely pirated – the police started to call me up and say that I had to give them the names of the cops who had helped me. I got sued by a lot of BOPE officials – and regular cops. They tried to prevent the film from opening officially and eventually this guy said he was going to arrest me in my house – one of the top policemen in Rio de Janeiro.
I don’t know the risks that will come with the release of Elite Squad II, because I don’t know what’s going to happen, but as far as the filming goes, this was much easier than shooting Elite Squad. Firstly, because this is the sequel to a blockbuster, it was harder for people to try to stop us from shooting – say, by not giving us rights to locations. So the politics of it were much easier. When we went and had meetings with the representatives of the mayor and of the governor – they were very nice to us. The only thing that happened was that we tried to shoot at Congress in Brasília and they wouldn’t let us shoot indoors, inside the Brazilian Congress, because they thought the film would be bad for the system, which I guess they were right about.
Elite Squad II looks at the favelas from the police perspective. It was shot in Rio mostly, and a bit in Brasília. In Rio, we shot in a huge slum in Barra de Tijuca. We shot all over town. Inside the real BOPE base – and real police stations. We shot in the police HQ downtown actually. I think the film has about 100 locations.
I like Rio. If Brazil grows economically, sustainably, for a decent amount of time, like it’s currently growing, 6-7 per cent of GDP per year, the whole country will get better and Rio will get better too. I think a lot of it depends on economics – although there’s also this thing called global warming. The oceans are coming up and Rio is by the sea. So that is going to affect the city in the long run.
Then of course there’s the violence of Rio – and the beauty of Rio. Those things go together and they also go against each other. I think Rio is bound to get better and the violence will end because I think the UPP [the special police units taking over the favelas] has worked so far. There have been problems, but the people living in those favelas that have been recovered by the police are happy. So I think in the long run we’re going to have better numbers as far as violence goes. There is a risk involved in this, though, the organisation that’s taking over the slums from the drug dealers is the police.
When I’m not working I tend to stay in or around Rio. The city is cool because our countryside is nearby. You can either go to the mountains or the beach. That’s the thing that really rules Rio.”
‘Elite Squad II’ will be in cinemas in 2011
The sequel drama to 2007’s hit turns the protagonist tables, following the police as they deal with violence and politics in the favelas.
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