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Catching a ride on "Bus 174"

Posted at 1:56 PM on April 17, 2006 by Euan Kerr

Jose Padilha's documentary "Bus 174" came about through a series of strange and unfortunate circumstances, but he created a riveting film which provides a huge amount of fodder for thought.

In June 2000 a man called Sandro do Nascimento, hijacked a bus in borad dayight, in the middle of a busy street in Rio de Janeiro. Within minutes the police, and tv cameras surrounded the bus, and a stand-off began, broadcast live across Brazil.

It wasn't clear what Sandro wanted. He may have been high on drugs. He may have been wanting to make a point. It wasn't clear why the police were so hesitant to act. It also wasn't clear why the TV cameras were allowed to get so close to the bus.

The hijacking ended suddenly, and somewhat unexpectedly. (I'll not say how in case you want to see the film.) What happened that day was soon lost in the on-going crush of daily news.

Padilha watched the whole incident unfold on a TV at the gym where he had been working out. He wanted to understand more about what had happened, and why.

He found some of Sandro's friends, and learned his history. He talked to police tacticians, and to some of the people in the media crush around the bus. He also gained access to the hours of video shot during the stand-off. It was as if he had a multi-camera set-up covering the incident.

The version now available on DVD at 2 hours is apparently shorter than the original film released in Brazil. It moves along quickly however, using the developing hostage stand-off as it's backbone.

He explores the plight of street kids living in Rio, public and police attitudes to crime and poverty, and how much things can change if an entire country is watching. It's not a pretty portrait.

"Bus 174" compliments two other feature films, "City of God," Fernando Meirelles' violent and tragic portrayal of street kids and "Carandiru," Hector Babenco's sweet-and-sour retelling of the massacre at Sao Paulo's massively over-crowded prison. Sitting thousands of miles away we may feel glad we live in a safer society, but of course we would be foolish not to pay attention to the lessons learned.

April 2006
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