Documentary depicts what happened in Rio de Janeiro on June 12th 2000, when bus 174 was taken by an armed young man, threatening to shoot all the passengers. Transmitted live on all ... See full summary »
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Napoleon A. Chagnon
Documentary depicts what happened in Rio de Janeiro on June 12th 2000, when bus 174 was taken by an armed young man, threatening to shoot all the passengers. Transmitted live on all Brazilian TV networks, this shocking and tragic-ending event became one of violence's most shocking portraits, and one of the scariest examples of police incompetence and abuse in recent years. Written by
"It is no use killing street kids. There will always be more of them" - 17-year old at the Sao Martinho shelter
Brazil has approximately seven million children working and living on the streets of its cities, finding street life an acceptable alternative to abuse and poverty at home. On the streets, children do whatever it takes to survive including stealing, drugs, and often murder and most end up in juvenile detention centers or in prisons where their antisocial behavior is reinforced. In his powerful documentary, Bus 174, Jose Padilha depicts one of the most publicized media events of 2000, the hijacking of a city bus in a wealthy part of Rio by a former street kid, Sandro do Nacimento, igniting a standoff with the police and a media circus that lasted for hours on live TV.
The film begins with aerial shots of the crowded city while the homeless talk about the reasons they ended up on the streets. The camera then zooms in to a solitary bus surrounded by police. Due to the failure of the Brazilian police to cordon off the area, the crime scene swarmed with cameramen, journalists, police, and passersby, adding to a scene of chaos and confusion. As the drama begins to unfold, we see Sandro holding one hostage by the neck, walking up and down the bus as if not knowing what to do. At first, he seems uncertain, wrapping a towel around his face to hide from the camera and making unusual demands from the police such as a small sum of money, a hand grenade, and a bus driver.
Things become more desperate when one of the female hostages writes in lipstick on the windshield "He is going to kill us all at 6:00. Help us." but the police do nothing except to stand around. Police said later that the presence of the live TV cameras inhibited them from taking aggressive measures to end the ordeal.
Using original footage from Global TV and interviews with former hostages, friends and relatives of the hijacker, sociologists, and police who participated in the standoff, Padilha focuses not only on the events as they took place but on the circumstances that may have triggered it. Padilha said in an interview, "There was a lot of press coverage, but it was cloudy, it wasn't complete. It was focused on the police, and on the political side of the issue. I felt like I was missing something, I was missing the hijacker." What he finds does not justify Sandro's actions, but makes them more comprehensible. Padilha reveals that Sandro, at age 6, witnessed his mother being stabbed to death in a robbery.
Unable to come to grips emotionally with the tragedy, he became a street kid in the Copacabana area. By the time of the hijacking, Sandro had been in prisons and juvenile detention centers where, according to Padilha, inmates are regularly brutalized. In 1993, he was involved in an incident in front of the Candelaria Church where he often slept in which plainclothes policemen intentionally gunned down eight street children, many who were his friends, an incident Sandro recalls emotionally when shouting at the police from inside the bus.
The film also reveals the connection many of the hostages felt for their tormentor, though deeply afraid for their lives. Some felt that they were participating in a made for TV movie because of the times Sandro would tell them to pretend that they were in danger, although he yells at the police that "this ain't no action movie but some serious sh**". Though Padilha retains his objectivity throughout, he uses the hijacking to expose the weaknesses in Brazil's society that make incidents like this possible.
"We treat those kids as though they are invisible," he says. "They're always trying to get your attention, to get your money. And they realized they could get your attention through violence, because violence attracts the media." Bus 174 attracts our attention immediately and the tension is palpable until its moving conclusion. Like the recent City of God, Bus 174 does not provide any solutions but shines some light on a problem many would prefer to keep hidden, perhaps in the process making the invisible a little less so.
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