Get inside the raw and gritty world of Sao Paulo's kidnapping epidemic

Sequestro In Sao Paulo, kidnapping is an established business - lucrative and hectic. For four years a film crew followed the police department's anti-kidnap division. The film takes a white knuckle ride with the police as they locate houses holding captives, listen in on phone calls, free petrified hostages and bust the kidnappers. Raw, powerful and with incredible access, this edgy documentary confronts one of the biggest problems that Brazil faces today.

The police creep up the stairs, guns pointed. Bang! The door is kicked in and they flood through it into a darkened room. A young man is tied up on the floor. He opens his trembling mouth in disbelief, unable to utter a word. "You're going home, breathe, relax," they reassure him. He shakes, racked with indescribable emotion. A phone is handed to him. "Dad, they found me. I love you Dad", he sobs, still shaking uncontrollably. As they drive away from the scene, ever so slowly a smile appears on his face.

Kidnapping has reached crisis point in Brazil, with the number of cases sky-rocketing. "Put $25,000 in a suitcase", a disturbingly high-pitched voice screeches down the phone. "I don-t have that much! Please, let me speak to my father", comes the pleading response. "Screw you, you'll get your father back in pieces." This is the nightmare that all too often becomes a reality in a country gripped by fear of kidnapping. "You can't imagine what it's like to get those phone calls", shudders the victim's son.

However, the anti-kidnapping squad are equally tough and they track the criminals relentlessly, adopting any tactics they can to free the victims, including taking the kidnapper's family into custody as a bargaining tool. "My mother is a Christian, man. She's got nothing to do with this", the kidnapper argues. "I'm not making small talk with a criminal. I want the victim set free", is the inspector's simple reply. A chilling and nerve-wracking journey through the squad's daily highs and lows, this doc will have you on the edge of your seat all the way.

Laurel Best Documentary, Beverly Hills Film Festival, 2010

The Producers

With an economics degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s degree from the Business School Lausanne in Switzerland, Jorge Atalla moved to New York to study filmmaking at the New York Film Academy where he received an advanced film technique degree. In 2000, Atalla returned to Brazil and began shooting his first feature documentary, In Cane for Life (A Vida em Cana) which portrays the hardships of working in the sugar cane fields. To capture the essence and human nature of the workers, the director practically lived with hundreds of workers over a six month period. The film was screened at 56 film festivals in 11 countries and won 14 awards – 9 for best documentary including a Satellite Award from the International Press Academy. It took two years to convince others to join the Sequestro project because kidnapping in the city was at its peak. Shooting finally began in late 2005.

Making The Film

I thought about producing "Sequestro" in 2001 when I moved back to Brazil after several years of living abroad. Life in São Paulo had changed since I left in 1987 - the crime rate had exploded. Kidnapping, a crime I had never heard about before I left the country at the age of 18, had become a real and dangerous part of everyday life in São Paulo. With over 500 kidnappings taking place that year alone, it is estimated that 1,500 cases were not reported to the police. I had to document what was going on in my city and show the world. I spent the next three years convincing people, especially producers, about the importance of making the film. Many declined, thinking it was too dangerous and impossible to make -- specifically obtaining all the licenses needed to shoot the film. I spent 2004 with the Anti Kidnapping Division, convincing them of the importance and seriousness of the film. After three years of convincing my family, producers and the police the film could be made -- I was able to get the funding and begin shooting in 2005.

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