Pixote is a 1981 disturbing film story about a
criminal child in the streets of Rio and São Paulo. Now, a first-rate
filmmaker goes back to the theme to tell us what happened to Fernando Ramos
da Silva, the baby-faced boy who played Pixote and ended up being
killed by the police.
Sam and Harriet Robbins
Director-producer José Joffily is basking in the spotlight of
fame with his latest picture Who Killed Pixote?, the big winner
at the recent Rio Grande do Sul’s Gramado Film Festival. It was shown in
the Montreal and Quebec Film Festivals as well. In addition, the film will
be making its USA premiere in Hollywood during the AFI’s (American Film
Institute) International Film Festival, which will run from October 1731.
A veteran of Brazilian film making, Joffily is currently screening the
picture in the international film circuit before its release to the public.
He has brought an insightful view of the tragic circumstances that befell
the young actor Fernando Ramos da Silva, who played the lead role in Hector
Babenco’s film Pixote. In so doing he has brought today’s headlines
into the theater — the plight of children who have become killers and
victims in this current vicious trend.
Filmmaker Joffily has a lot to be proud of. Born on November 27, 1945,
in João Pessoa in the state of Paraíba, he has become one
of Brazil’s outstanding directors. His early training was for the law with
a degree from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. He never practiced
law though, and followed the muses with his interest in photography and
journalism. These professions enabled him to travel extensively throughout
Brazil and abroad.
Joffily cut his eye teeth in film with his first short work, Praça
Tiradentes (Tiradentes Square). Now launched in the media of
his choice, he forged ahead in the capacities of scriptwriter, director
and producer. In 1981, he set up the production company Coevos Filmes and
continued his film work. His first fulllength feature film, made in 1985,
Urubus e Papagaios (Buzzards and Parrots) featured Nélson
Dantas and Dora Pellegrino.
In the early 90’s, Brazilian cinema and all forms of culture took a
beating under the Collor government. The film industry was almost annihilated.
In 1992 José Joffily, despite these difficult times, made A Maldição
de Sampaku ( Sampaku’s Curse), another full-length film. Made on a
shoestring Sampaku helped keep Brazilian cinema alive. The film,
an entertaining detective story won several awards at the Gramado Festival
(best supporting actor for Roberto Bontempo, plus best editing and photography).
It also did well at the Brasília Festival, getting prizes for best
fulllength film, according to the popular and official juries; best actress
Patrícia Pillar, best supporting actor Bontempo; plus best photography
According to Joffily himself, the film cost about $900,000. Money that
he got mainly through the Brazilian Ministry of culture and Sony Corporation
of America. The film was shot in Rio (7 weeks) and São Paulo (1
week). Trying to simplify the location shootings, most of São Paulo’s
work was done at the downtown Viaduto do Chá. The main location
was recreated in Jacarepaguá, Rio de Janeiro.
Joffily was unable to use the location of Diadema, which was Fernando
Ramos da Silva’s (Pixote) town, because it has completely changed in the
past 15 years after successive administrations by the Partido dos Trabalhadores
The script of Who Killed Pixote? was based on the books Pixote,
a Lei do Mais Forte (Pixote, the Law of the Fittest) by José
Louzeiro and Pixote, Nunca Mais (Pixote, Never More) by Cida Venâncio
Silva, Pixote’s wife at the time of his death. Fernando played the part
of Pixote in Hector Babenco’s award winning film of the same name.
“When I talked to Babenco about making this film,” said Joffily
recently, “he told me, `I’ve done my Pixote. This one is yours.'”
These are the director’s sentiments too. He felt that he wanted to make
a film for all of those who hadn’t seen the original Pixote as well as
for those who had. The Babenco film had harsh comments made about it by
many respectable citizens who believed he had distorted the facts. Today,
however, after the massacres of children and families at the Candelária
church and Vigário Geral favela (shanty town), the film seems
“My film is not a documentary, Fernando did exist, but to relive
his story we chose the mythical version to relate it,” said Joffily
recently in Los Angeles. In a recent interview scriptwriter Paulo Halm
commented, “When José Joffily asked me to write the script
for Who Killed Pixote? I remembered that on August 25, 1987, the
day Fernando was killed in Diadema, I was but a few miles away from the
site in São Paulo, filming PSW — Uma Crônica Subversiva (PSW
for Paulo Stuart Wright — A Subversive Chronicle), about the life of Paulo
Wright, a leftwing militant who `disappeared’ in the torture chambers of
the infamous DOICODI (Department of Operations of Information – Center
of Internal Defense Operations) during the military dictatorship.
“This was a meaningful coincidence, since both Fernando Ramos and
Paulo Wright were victims of the same brutality, repression and violence
in Brazil under the dictatorship. Fernando was a havenot, his greatest
crime was daring to be an actor in a society in which art and culture belongs
to the elite. In this film we wanted to show a Brazilian tragedy and the
pain and rage, as experienced in Fernando’s brief span of life.”
Fernando Ramos da Silva was the seventh of 10 children delivered to
Josefa Carvalho da Silva, from the poor northeastern state of Pernambuco.
Settling in São Paulo Josefa married João Ramos da Silva
and subsequently moved to Diadema, on the outskirts of Greater São
Paulo. Left a widow in 1977, life was a struggle for the Silva family.
In 1979, Fernando, 11 years old, tried out for the leading role in Hector
Babenco’s film Pixote. Picked for the part out of the 1300 boys
who applied, his life changed dramatically. For the first time he had money
in his pocket and he was the provider for his family. Reality and fantasy
became entangled, he envisioned himself as a super star. This was not to
After a brief span of success, Fernando, who was practically illiterate,
could not handle the roles offered to him and the downward trend set in.
In Fernando’s own words, “I felt as if I’d been split into two people;
Fernando da Silva who wanted an honest job and Pixote, the thief, who was
beginning to take over.” He met Cida, they fell in love and married.
At the time he was 17, and she was 16. Their daughter Jaqueline was less
than a year old when Fernando was murdered by three military policemen
on August 25, 1987. They shot him eight times. All three alleged that Fernando
had been involved in a burglary and that they shot him in self defense.
Several other members of his family met violent deaths and so the pattern
José Joffily talked to Brazzil recently while in Los Angeles
to finish the final lab work on Who Killed Pixote?: “I wanted
to do the film about what happened to the boy who played Pixote — his
tragic story was written in a small book by his widow Cida Venâncio,
the mother of his only daughter Jaqueline. I was moved by her story, and
also by the book written by José Louzeiro, the same author who inspired
Hector Babenco to make the original film Pixote. I used real actors
who had the range to perform the important roles in the film. They could
look like young boys and then look older as needed. They were accomplished
“I tried to show in Who Killed Pixote? the reality of my
country Brazil. Fernando’s story and his tragic end reflect the vast differences
in the social scale of Brazil. There are many Pixotes today, they live
between poverty and death. Many of them think that committing crimes is
the only way out of their miserable lives, the only avenue open to them
to reach their goals. This attitude is not only reflective of Brazil, but
we can see it has been imprinted universally on the economically and socially
deprived young people. I believe my film Who Killed Pixote? will
shed some light on this problem.”
“Although this film focuses on social issues”, the director
said, “I tried to make Who Killed Pixote? into an action and
more popular film that would be appealing and entertaining for larger audiences.
However, I did not compromise the facts of the story at all. I tried to
make a film that would stand on its own feet, for those who had not seen
the original Pixote, and for those who wanted to follow what happened to
the boy who played Pixote in Babenco’s film.
One of the key problems Fernando had as an actor was that he was illiterate.
He was able to follow the directions of Babenco in the original film and
acted out the story. However, when trying out for parts and performing
after Pixote he couldn’t handle it. He never let on that he was
unable to read. He faked it. He was getting the reputation of being a difficult
actor, unable to get jobs. A similar problem exists in the United States,
where many graduate and are still unable to read.
Who Killed Pixote? is an important film for many reasons. Brazilian
and foreign publications have recently written about the rogue police in
Brazil who have made it a practice to massacre those they consider undesirable,
often concentrating on children. There has been an outcry against this
brutal attitude, and the government is in the process of investigating
these charges and bringing police practices back to their proper agenda.
José Joffily, who for 15 years has been teaching cinema at Rio’s
Universidade Federal Fluminense, has plans for the future. His next project
will deal with Brazilian immigrants in the United States. This story will
be about a Brazilian, an Italian and a Cuban. He plans to shoot on location
in Chicago in the English language. The film is called The American
Tragedy, but perhaps it should be called The New American Tragedy
so as not to confuse it with Theodore Dreiser’s classic about a youngster
torn between two girlfriends: one rich and the other poor.
Another project on the boards is a film based on a true story from a
book written by Joffily’s father, a historian. It tells the story of a
crime of passion which involved executives in an American company operating
in Brazil in 1931. This was a sensational case in its time.
As a scriptwriter:
- O Sonho Não Acabou
- Parayba, Mulher Macho
- Avaeté, a Semente da Vingança
- O Rei do Rio
- Terra para Rose
- A Filha dos Trapalhões
- Urubus e Papagaios
- Vai Trabalhar Vagabundo
- A Cor do Seu Destino
- A Maldição do Sampaku
- Geléia Geral
- PSW — Uma Crônica Subversiva (director: Paulo Halm)
- Lamarca (director: Sérgio Rezende)
- Praça Tiradentes
- Alô Tetéia
- Copa Mixta
- Curta Seqüência
- Voando com os Pés no Chão
- Urubus e Papagaios
- A Maldição do Sampaku
- Quem Matou Pixote?
- Gramado Festival — A Maldição do Sampaku won
best supporting actor (Roberto Bomtempo), best photography and best editing
- Brasília’s Festival — A Maldição do Sampaku
won best film (popular and official jury), best actress (Patrícia
Pillar), best supporting actor (Roberto Bomtempo), best photography and
- Rio Cine Festival — best script for Avaeté, a Semente da
- Festival de Cartagena — best script for A Cor do Seu Destino
- Festival de Brasília — best script for A Cor do Seu Destino
- Festival de Natal — best script for Vai Trabalhar Vagabundo II
- Rio’s Video Festival best video for Voando com os Pés no
- Roquette Pinto Prize — best film of the year for A Maldição
- Amazônia – TV Manchete’s soap opera
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