Documentaries are about opening a conversation on relevant issues. These Brazilian documentaries will equip you with the information to discuss critical issues facing Brazil. From allowing workers to collect materials from landfill sites, to ordered assassinations to facilitate land grabbing in the Amazon. Many of these documentaries are available on Kanopy a free resource provided via signing up at your local public library.
Political Brazilian Documentaries
O Dia que Durou 21 Anos (The Day that Lasted 21 Years)
On April 1, 1964, Brazil’s military staged a coup to remove President João Goulart from office. The military stayed in power for the next 21 years. Heavy handed this government quelled complaints from students, journalists, teachers and hunted down guerilla groups during that period. This documentary reveals details on how the US government propped up the dictatorship, by drawing on declassified documents from the White House.
Democracia em Vertigem (The Edge of Democracy)
This documentary is narrated as a memoir by Petra Costa, telling the story of Lula and Dilma’s trials as ex-presidents of Brazil. This is a leftist documentary, offering biased views, however, it also does a good job at outlining recent political processes and corruption trials that have obsessed Brazil. In 2016, Dilma, popular President Luiz Lula da Silva’s successor, was impeached for criminal administrative misconduct. In 2018, Lula was sentenced to 12 years in prison for corruption. Lula was later released after the case was annulled. In 2022 Lula was reelected. Watch this documentary to see those stories unraveled up to 2019.
Quebrando o Tabu (Breaking the Taboo)
Quebrando o Tabu shows the porous and convoluted War on Drugs in Latin America. The documentary features interviews with ex-president of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso, as well as tracking the knock-on effects to Europe and the USA. Count on shocking images of thousands of illicit guns confiscated in Rio de Janeiro and the “needle parks” of Germany.
The director has since developed Quebrando o Tabu into a short documentary series on YouTube that covers under-reported human rights issues, with a focus on Brazil.
Ocupar e Resistir (Schools in Fight)
Award winning documentary Schools in Fight films the movement of high school children to occupy public schools that were set for closure. In a TV interview the Minister of Education announced the closure of 94 public schools. The students begin a protest by setting up camp in 241 schools. The documentary follows their progress.
Brazil: Beef, Bibles and Bullets
This documentary scans the largest supporters of Ex-President Jair Bolsonaro: large landowners, evangelical Christians and the military. Nicknamed the beef, bible and bullets we see the affect the election of the far-right leader is having on Brazil. It also justifies why he ever made it to power: support from powerful portions of the Brazilian population.
Brazilian Documentaries Set in Rio de Janeiro
Lixo Extraordinário (Wasteland)
Wasteland was curated by Vik Muniz a Brazilian artist who creates portraits using materials such as food, toys or trash. Filming for 3 years, Muniz’ team traveled to Jardim Gramacho the biggest landfill site in the world at the time. In collaboration with a group of catadores (pickers), who scour the trash for recyclable materials of value, the documentary tracks the process of creating portraits of trash. The portraits were then auctioned off and the profits donated to the pickers’ union. The union represents between 2,500-3000 pickers in Rio.
You can watch Wasteland on Kanopy or Amazon Prime. On the website there are also the downloadable portraits of the pickers.
Falção: Meninos do Tráfico (Falcon: Drug Trafficking’s Boys)
The favela communities of Brazil have a high percentage of women-headed households. The mass incarceration and assassination of a large portion of the men in these communities has left many households absent of adult males. Brazilian rapper MV Bill produced a documentary on the process of recruiting young boys into drug trafficking. Ultimately, the main cause of their absence in later life. Recruitment often begins in the position of Falcão (falcon), which is the lookout who alerts when other gangs or police officers are approaching the drug headquarters.
Onibus 174 (Bus 174)
What would happen to you if you escaped a massacre that killed your closest friends?
On July 23 1993, Sandro de Nascimento escaped the Candelaria Massacre. The shooting killed 8 homeless teenagers and children sheltering outside the Candelaria church in Rio de Janeiro. There were 60 minors sheltering there that night. The shooters included police officers. Years later, Sandro hijacked a bus in the affluent South Zone of Rio de Janeiro. The documentary follows the events of the hijacking, which lasted 5 hours.
Cidade de Deus: 10 Anos Depois (City of God 10 Years Later)
Tracking the lives of the cast of City of God, the vastly popular Brazilian 2002 movie, this documentary shows the non-showbiz glam of the favelas. It also reunites the cast to see what paths their lives took once the filming crew moved on.
Brazilian Documentaries on the Northeast
Dominguinhos Conta and Canta Gonzaga (Dominguinhos Sings and Tells the Stories of Gonzaga)
Dominguinhos is a Baião musician, a genre hailing from Northeast Brazil. In this documentary Dominguinhos pays homage to the most prolific Northeastern musician, Luiz Gonzaga. He tells stories of their tours throughout the country, personal romances and sings Gonzaga’s unforgettable compositions.
The full, high quality documentary of Dominguinho Conta and Canta Gonzago is on YouTube.
Estou Me Guardando Para Quando o Carnaval Chegar (Waiting for the Carnival)
A documentary that explores the evolution of the small town of Toritama in the State of Pernambuco. It depicts the relentless work of the inhabitants of Toritama, who know the more they work, the more they can earn. The only time they take a break is for the 5 day Carnival, 6 weeks before Easter.
Brazilian Documentaries on Culture
Tropicália was a Brazilian cultural movement that combined various Brazilian musical genres, as well as film, art and theatre. The prominent idea behind Tropicalismo was to emphasize that Brazil’s mixture and adaption of numerous cultures was its greatest strength. The movement gained momentum during the 21-year Brazilian dictatorship, during which artists used the lyrics of these songs to speak against the conservative military ideals. Google’s Arts and Culture center has a vast collection of arts and biographies of the leaders of Tropicália.
Galeno, Curumin Arteiro (Galeno, A Crafty Boy)
Franco Galeno is a celebrated Brazilian painter, who paints pictures of urban scenes using elements from childhood, such as toys. One of his most famous paintings was the design of the entire inside of Igrejinha in Brasilia. The documentary follows his humble life in Ceará, immigration to the new capital Brasília and shows his artistic process.
O Sal da Terra (Salt of the Earth)
Sebastião Salgado is a Brazilian photographer famed for his 40-year career photographing people from remote corners of the planet. Some of his most notable works were photographing the miners in Brazilian gold mine Serra Pelada, the famine in West Africa and his series from Genesis documenting pristine elements of the planet. O Sal da Terra follows Salgado’s career and lifelong project to photograph unseen corners of the world.
Alan Kardec is the founder of Spiritualism, a religion popular in Brazil. Telling the story of Kardec’s journey to Brazil and his work educating and chronicling this religion the documentary shines a light on an influential religion in Brazil.
Bandidos na TV (Killer Ratings)
A dramatized documentary revealing the criminal activity of TV show owner and host Wallace Souza. Souza’s popular show Canal Livre screened sensationalized murders in Brazil, supposedly to reduce crime. However, investigations revealed that Souza had ordered a series of these murders to boost his own show’s ratings.
Brazilian Documentaries Based on the Amazon and Environment
They Killed Sister Dorothy (Mataram Irmã Dorothy)
Sister Dorothy Stang moved to Anapu in Pará, one of the Brazilian States in the Amazon region, to be a missionary in 1966. She was murdered in 2005 for her work criticizing the lack of land reform in the Amazon region and the consequential illegal logging and cattle farming. This documentary uncovers the lawyers, middlemen, small agricultural farmers and large cattle ranchers involved in her assassination.
Ilha das Flores (Island of Flowers)
Tracking the journey of a tomato to a landfill site, this short 18 minute documentary is a lesson in waste management. Ilha das Flores is an older documentary shown often in primary schools as an education tool.
Into the Amazon
This documentary follows the 1913 expedition of Theodore Roosevelt and Cândido Rondon into the Amazon. The pair with a team of 20 chart the unexplored River of Doubt.
A film exploring the practice of modern day slavery in farms in the Amazon region. This film tracks a mother as she searches for her missing son. A powerful, emotional and distressing story based on truth. It will shake you.