March 2003

Sorry, That's War

Katia Lund, co-director of City of God, sounds out: "Damn,
I am talking about my country, about what I want to talk
about! We speak as if there were two societies but it is just one
body! What good is it if your head is good but your leg is sick?"

Clarissa Beretz
Katia Lund is one of those people who makes you feel like sitting, having a beer and spending hours chatting. Director of fiction movies, documentaries and video clips, she has stood out for tackling the violence and the social marginalization in many of her projects. She directed the clips O que sobrou do céu (What has left from the sky) and Minha alma (My soul) from the band O Rappa.

Her latest work, the full length Cidade de Deus (City of God), which was co-directed by Fernando Meirelles, has been watched by more than 3 million people in Brazil alone, having provoked polemic and national enchantment. The story, based on the book by the same name from Paulo Lins, tells, from a boy's point of view, how violence and the drugs trade dominated the favelas (slums) of Rio, in a hardcore plot that is still vividly poetic. It has been praised in Brazil and around the world for many reasons, among others, for revealing acting talents from the favelas and showing this reality with sincerity, something never before seen so clearly.

Recently, the movie has been nominated to represent Brazil in the Oscars. Last October, this 36-year-old São Paulo-born daughter of Americans, who studied Cinema almost by chance, was in London for the showing of her documentary Notícias de uma Guerra Particular (News from a Private War) at the Brazilian Film Festival. She spoke to Jungle Drums about citizenship, press and her feelings about Brazil.

How was your first contact with the favelas?

When I lived in São Paulo, I used to spend some weekends at the home of the woman who worked as a maid in my house, but then I simply saw the favela as a poor area, I did not have the notion of the favela as a community. When I moved to Rio in '96 I worked on Michael Jackson's They Don't Care About Us video clip in Santa Marta hill. I did the production and had to organize everything for the crew. It was then that I started realizing how things really worked there.

And why did you decide to make a movie with this thematic?

It was the first time that I saw the police acting in a way that they never would in my street, with five machineguns in my face, humiliating a person that was just working. That was a trigger for me. I realized that I was 29 years old and had no real notion of the country I was born in. I've seen things from the opposite side, from the oppressed side, and it is amazing how huge the abuse of power is! There was a knot in my head and I knew I had to do something, to show this to the world. Talking to Walter Salles—I was directing assistant of Central do Brasil (Central Station)—he suggested that I make a documentary about this. I had never directed but we started researching and began the News from a Private War (co-directed by her and João Moreira Salles, Walter Salles' brother).

What most impressed you in this process?

How much we are cheated by the press. It is incredible how the media sometimes does not inform the people. A lot of what is published is exactly the opposite of what has happened. A headline can be "Enemy number 1", and the enemy can be a 12 year old boy who didn't know what he was doing. They create labels and judgments that instead of clarifying the causes, reprimand the symptoms. This only makes things worse. Few people in the favelas have had the opportunity to tell their stories with realism and poetry.

Was this your expectation when you filmed News from a Private War and City of God?

  I wanted to show what is happening, in a clear way and without labels. People come to know things through the media with all these problems that I have mentioned: with each edition and headline designed to sell newspapers. And the press is so objective that it doesn't bring you any real emotions, you watch it and keep on drinking your coffee, and afterwards you forget. I think there must be a personal impact to feel this revolt and actually act. Like I did, with the machineguns pointed to me.

What has been the repercussion in Brazil?

 It is madness. The coolest thing is that it is being watched by people from all different classes. People who have never been to the movies before—perhaps they did not see themselves or did not identify themselves in a movie—are going to watch it. And everybody is talking about it! One day I was at the hairdresser and it was wicked, I saw the manicures, the girls who serve coffee and the madams all discussing the scenes and the whole social problematic. I have been noticing that the movie has helped democratize discussion.

What are the biggest difficulties when raising this theme?

Many people ask me: "Why don't you talk about your social class?" Damn, I am talking about my country, about what I want to talk about! There are a lot of these people in Brazil who say you have to look after you and your family and if you tackle the social space it is never well understood. Some friends of mine even said "I don't want to see this, it is not my reality". I reckon this is a blockage that we have. We speak as if there were two societies but it is just one body! What good is it if your head is good but your leg is sick?

You have experienced both worlds. What do you think must be changed?

  Society has put the police as a frontier. Every citizen who comes down the favela, or someone that wants to go up, has to go through the police, is examined, and needs to show documents. Soon it will be necessary to show your passport to get into the favela; it is becoming a foreign country! For me, the first step is to change the concept. We need to remove this barrier and start entering, opening interchange channels, and creating partnerships. Understanding that over there is not just a place of bandits and useless people. We need to permit the citizens from the favelas to take part in our society.

Have you got any religion?

No (laughs). What I do has nothing to do with religion, just democracy, civic duty and citizenship. It is the obligation of each person to respect the other. It is your brother that is there, we are all Brazilians!

And if you had been born in a favela?

I don't want to be accomplice in a society of casts.

And the trafficking issue? How do you analyze the legislation?

The drug criminalization only helps to make the traffic heavier. No one quits smoking or sniffing just because it is forbidden. And this money goes to the organized crime, buys guns and makes people get into this because it creates loads of money. It is anti productive. I reckon there are some drugs that should be sold at the pharmacy, in a controlled way, with registration and the charging of taxes. We should also invest in the treatment of the drug effects. It is much more dangerous the presence of the guns and the crime, the fact of having to go up to the favela, than sniffing itself. But I guess it is hard to change this system, as it is so rooted already in Brazil…

What are your plans for the future? Are you going to carry on in this path of social indictment?

No, City of God closed a cycle that I have been tracing since 1996. Now I am letting the boat flow and just receiving feedback from people. I want to tackle other subjects, I am finishing a documentary about rap in Brazil, Cuba and the U.S., and am going to make the next clip from Racionais and start a script of a feature. I will also keep on working with the boys from the cast, in the group that we formed, Nós do Cinema (We/Knots from the Cinema—we and knots are the same word in Portuguese). They are already making their own movies, journalism in the favelas, scripts…It is very gratifying.

Was this your great merit?

I don't know whether I have got any great merit in all this…I have already said what I wanted. My looking and my message are in the movie. I can say that after this I feel less lonely.

You lived in the U.S.. How was this experience?

   I went to study literature and stayed there for four years. My parents are American, I speak English, I thought I was American. However, when I arrived there I saw how different it was, I wanted to come back, I missed Brazil. I worked as a cleaner, waitress, anything we do far away is cool and it is always an experience.

How did the cinema get into your life?

My degree in literature was like living in a bubble, in a small village, I felt claustrophobic. I stayed there two years but I wanted to see the world, travel, I was 20 years old. One day I saw an ad: "Study of Cinema and Social Transformation, traveling around 8 countries." It was the excuse I gave my father to go on the road. I went with a friend and we thought: "Do you think we'll have to watch films all day long?" (laughs) I didn't have a clue, but later I began to discover certain theories and freak out in how cinema reaches people, in how collective the work is. I fell in love.

This interview was originally published by Jungle Drums magazine,  

Clarissa Beretz is journalist and reporter of Jungle Drums magazine, in London. In Brazil she worked as a reporter for Ana Maria magazine, São Paulo daily newspaper Notícias Populares, and webzine Usina do Som She welcomes your comments at 

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