Senior Editor

The Inertia

A few hours after the sun had peeked over the horizon on a January morning in 2015, Ricardo dos Santos was gunned down on the street in front of his house. He didn’t wake up that morning knowing that he only had a few hours left. No one could have predicted the terrible sequence of events that would lead to his untimely death.

By now, you’ve heard the story: according to witness accounts, dos Santos was working on his property when he noticed that a strange car was parked in front of a pipe he needed to work on. After he asked the men in the car to move,  an argument broke out. Ricardo ended up with two bullets in his back, one that perforated his spleen, pancreas, liver, and intestine, while the second bullet lodged in the fifth vertebra in the lower back. A day and four surgeries later, Ricardo died in hospital. The country was outraged.

The shooter was a police officer named Paulo Mota Brentano, a troubled man with a checkered past who quickly became the focus of a deep pool of anger for many in Brazil. Just two years earlier, on June 20th, 2013, a massive protest occurred in Brazil. “We desperately need a radical social improvement,” wrote Robson Penapreta. “For the first time in Brazil’s history, a massive movement, made by the people and for the people, demanded better education, a better health system, free transportation, and most importantly, the end of the militarization of the police.”

More than 5 million people took to the streets that day calling for change. Then, a year later, Ricardo dos Santos wrote a letter to the people of Guarda do Embaú pointing out that the town needed change to become safe again. Their response was that an eerie glimpse into the future: “It is too dangerous – some of us can get shot and killed.”

Beren Hall and Stab Magazine made a film about Ricardo’s death. It was a year in the making, and it is an important reminder to all of us not to forget about what happened that day. Beren and I spoke via email about the making of the film.  “I understand it’s a bit of a weird one with it being a Stab production and all,” he wrote. “However, Ricardo’s family have asked that we try and get this film to get as much publicity as possible, as it will put pressure on the authorities and hopefully ensure they don’t sweep the case under the rug.”

Did you know Ricardo?
Beren Hall: I actually didn’t know Ricardo at all which in some ways made it easier to make the film. I think if I had a personal connection with him I would have really struggled with the editing process and cutting certain people/interviews out of the final piece.

How long did you spend making the film?
BH: I flew to Brazil at the start of the year so that I could be present for the one year anniversary of his death, which was on the 20th of January. We knew that a lot of his family and friends would be in Guarda do Embau for the memorial and paddle out so it seemed like a good time to be there and conduct all of the interviews. I then spent the next 6-8 months working on the edit and clearing music and footage etc. and also getting approvals from the family and their lawyer. We didn’t want this piece to jeopardize the family’s case against the military police officer that shot Ricardo so we had to be careful with what we included in the film (the trial starts Dec 15th).

Was it hard to speak with family members about such a difficult subject?
BH: It was really hard, especially because most of the interviews were conducted in Portuguese so a lot of the time I wasn’t sure what was being said. I was extremely lucky to have Steven Allain conduct all of the interviews and translate for me. He knew Ricardo and his family so that helped immensely. There were a few tough questions that I was hesitant to ask, but we didn’t want the film to be just a tribute piece. We wanted to get to the bottom of what happened to Ricardo, so they were necessary.

Did you run into any opposition from the local police?
BH: We didn’t have any trouble with the local police but we kept a low profile most of the trip. It took a while to lock in an interview with the media relations officer for the Santa Catarina Military Police, but he was very accommodating once we met with him. Apparently after the shooting of Ricardo, the Military Police shipped in their most accomplished media relations officer to the area because the public backlash was so severe. He was very polished and knew all of the right things to say so that interview didn’t give us as much as we’d hoped.

What’s the general feeling in his hometown surrounding the situation? Are they angry that not enough is being done?
BH: Ricardo was actually appealing for a larger police presence in Guarda, prior to the shooting, as the town has become a party destination and crime has been on the rise in the area. The fact that he was then shot and killed by a police officer has made the situation even more volatile. The locals are extremely angry that not enough is being done to protect their town and their rights but they’re all hopeful that things will change soon.


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