Ahead of Olympics, doc explores mysterious vanishing of Rio residents
Documentary screening at Hot Docs turns the lens on Brazil's largest favela.
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TORONTO — As Rio de Janeiro prepares to welcome the world for the Summer Olympics, a new documentary is looking beyond the glitz of the Games to cast light on the dark side of Brazil's second largest city.
"In the Shadow of the Hill," which screens Friday at the HotDocs festival in Toronto, turns its lens on the residents of Rocinha, the largest slum or "favela" in Brazil.
The densely populated community is estimated to be home to anywhere between 70,000 and 300,000 people, and is located on a mountainside between two of Rio's wealthiest neighbourhoods.
Ahead of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, the Brazilian government introduced a series of "pacification" programs designed to reclaim territories controlled by armed drug traffickers.
Australian filmmaker Dan Jackson arrived in Rocinha in 2012 and started documenting the lives of the residents. The third time he returned to the favela was the same day tragedy occurred: Amarildo de Souza disappeared.
The local bricklayer had last been seen on June 14, 2013, being picked up by police for questioning. Police maintained he left the station alive. His family believed he had been tortured and killed by law enforcement.
"Before the case of Amarildo, there were 22 cases that we officially know of in Rocinha about the police torturing residents to obtain information," said Jackson in an interview.
"They went in front of the courtroom, in front of a judge, and the judge threw it out because they're poor black favela residents."
The mysterious circumstances surrounding de Souza's disappearance soon gained attention beyond Brazil's borders. "In The Shadow of the Hill" also examines the relationship between favela residents and the police, and shows the efforts of community members and activists to maintain hope and seek justice.
According to the film, about 38,000 people have disappeared in Rio between 2007 and 2013, the vast majority being black males from the favelas. The documentary also includes interviews with de Souza's family members, community residents and lawyer and human rights activist Joao Tancredo. According to Tancredo, in the last decade, about 10,000 forced disappearances in Rio alone are under suspicion of police involvement.
"If you look at a map of all the pacified communities in Rio, they have an inherent link to either the World Cup or the Olympics in terms of infrastructure they planned on building, in terms of public access highways," said Jackson. "In my mind, there is an absolutely indelible link between the two."
Since the outcry over de Souza's case, Tancredo said there are countless more people coming forward with "chillingly similar stories," noted Jackson.
"In his view, those people have always been there. But something that this particular case has done with the family coming forward, and the movement that broke out around it, is that people are feeling emboldened and braver," said Jackson.
"They're coming out and telling their stories rather than receding into the shadows and just keeping their mouths shut out of fear."
— Follow @lauren_larose on Twitter.