This group appeared 10 years prior inside the São Paulo penitentiaries and was formed initially to counter the inhumane conditions imposed on penal system inmates.
That year is the film’s setting as the main character has the right to a temporary leave from prison to visit his family. He ends up going with a mission from the syndicate, which by this time had branched out and taken proportions Brazilian politicians do not like to admit in public.
The 2012 attacks started as a reaction from the crime syndicate against the killing of six of its members by Military Police. The syndicate voiced an indiscriminate order for the killing of Military Policemen in retaliation. In total 106 military policemen were killed in these attacks. Most died while off duty, as this was easier to accomplish and had the additional penalty imposed by legislation upon the families of these policemen – if you are killed off-duty your family is not entitled to your pension.
The reaction was instantaneous, and the unspoken rule on the police side was that 10 criminals should be killed for every Military fallen.
People were extremely fearful of both sides, and the consequences of this retaliation were obvious and ludicrous. Many innocent people were killed in group slayings. An unmarked car would pass by a bar or people gathered in the street and they were machine gunned down. Maybe some had ties to the syndicate but most probably, as Military Police are not investigative.
This is just a backdrop as the film is not about the inner workings of the crime syndicate; it does not intend to explain the situation. We chose to have two lines paralleled, the mission imposed on an inmate on leave, and the first day of active duty of a recently graduated military policeman.
These stories parallel and cross at one certain point generating a change and a new development for both stories. But as this is a hopeless situation – what can you take from a burst of violence like this?
The film aims not to explain but to take each character’s choices to the extreme. And this is for me true for the three characters, Damião, the inmate, Palito (Toothpick), his longtime buddy, and Cleo who’s middle class but works for a NGO which gives theatre classes to the underprivileged and for whom Palito nurtures a platonic love.
The irony was that written as fiction, the film’s shoot took place in the midst of the worst attacks. The crew had to endure days and nights of angst as a policeman was killed a block away from our set, while walking home at night, and there was fear we could be targeted.
Having to deal with both sides brought us in contact with the two confronting ideologies. We were accepted as an artistic endeavor and a reflection of reality. We were treated with the utmost respect wherever we were. In this way we were welcomed into communities and could hope to bring some voice not to specific political stances but to a general feeling of insecurity.
The film was shot in five weeks in September and October 2012. These were the months at the height of the attacks.
The two rap songs featured in the film are huge anthems and are there for their significance to Brazil in terms of ghetto culture. Teenagers know the lyrics by heart, and when auditions for the film were being held, most of the kids auditioning for the scenes in Cleo’s classes would just take over and dance and sing as we indicated the rappers and their songs were on board with the film.
* * *
Luis Dantas is the director and producer of “If God Comes Let Him Bring a Gun.” The film screens at 4 p.m. Nov. 22 and 2 p.m. Nov. 23 at the UA Pavilions, Denver, as part of the Starz Denver Film Festival.