University of São Paulo: Documentary exposes the void left by the Brumadinho tragedy

One of the biggest socio-environmental tragedies in Brazil turns three years old on January 25th: the collapse of the dam of the mining company Vale in Brumadinho, Minas Gerais, in 2019. In addition to causing numerous environmental damage in the region, the tragedy resulted in 272 deaths. For film director Fernando Moreira, these numbers represent lives and cannot be reduced to records. For this reason, he decided to produce a work in tribute to the victims of the disaster, the short film O Vazio Que Apasso – released in June 2021 -, which received awards such as Best Screenplay at the International Film Festival of India (2021) and was selected for more than 30 festivals, including the Tiradentes Film Festival, which starts this Friday, the 21st.

“In the film, one of the interviewees, Evanir, says: ‘How am I going to tell them? What I’ll do?’. Looking at this scene I felt an emptiness. A void that will never be filled”, comments Fernando Moreira, who is also a journalist and a doctoral candidate in Semiotics and General Linguistics at the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences (FFLCH) at USP. He says that Evanir did not know how to tell the two children that their mother, an employee of the mining company Vale, was missing after the tragedy. At the beginning of the film, the father listens to the list of names of survivors being read by Lieutenant Pedro Aihara, from the Minas Gerais Fire Department. After discovering that his wife was not among the 182 names, he sends a voice message to his children: “Saviinho, Samuel, Mom’s name still doesn’t appear among those who are safe, no, okay? Let’s pray, in the name of Jesus.” In 2021, Evanir, Savinho and Samuel finally received news of the body’s location. “The story of Evanir, who lost his wife, is very strong for me. He seemed to be anesthetized by all that, his gaze was very distant. Waiting all this time with two kids is an anguish. He was very attached to faith to try to console himself and escape a little from this sad reality”, regrets Moreira.


Evanir, who lost his wife in the tragedy, is one of those interviewed in the film – Photo: Publicity/Fernando Moreira


It was not the first time that Moreira was faced with an environmental disaster involving Vale. In 2015, at the time as a reporter, he covered the failure of the dam in Mariana (MG), operated by Samarco, controlled by mining company Vale, with British company BHP Billiton. “It was a devastating scenario. I talked to people who were suffering a lot. When I heard about the Brumadinho tragedy, I was perplexed by the fact that the same situation would repeat itself, despite Vale’s promises of commitment.”

In February 2019, Moreira returned to her native Belo Horizonte. With his own budget and working independently, in about a week he made visits to Brumadinho to interview some victims of the disaster. He decided to produce his first film, with a proposal aimed at a human focus, different from what he was used to doing with reports (focused on information and with a more limited time). “In the media agenda there is the resumption of important events. For example, on January 25 this socio-environmental crime turns three years old. Close to that day, many vehicles will publish reports on the subject, but for the rest of the year, this theme will probably not appear. The documentary is perennial, timeless and fills this gap”, compares the director.

The documentary tries to translate the victims’ pain based on the memory of harrowing days. One of the interviewees, Júlio, told how he managed to escape the mud with a truck in a surprising way. However, his daughter-in-law and an entire football team were not so lucky and were hit. Júlio was the coach of this team, the only amateur in the Córrego do Feijão district, in Brumadinho. Tragedy changed his life. Even the soccer field where he worked was turned into a helipad. A place that was once fun has become a place of distress. Another interviewee, Lieutenant Aihara, dealt with death on a day-to-day basis by working in the rubble. In one of the scenes in the documentary, he comments: “When we end up seeing this kind of thing and think that it could have been avoided…

According to Fernando Moreira, Vale claims that it provides assistance to families, although it has not yet compensated all of them. In addition, the lawsuit ends up being another tragedy in people’s lives. “Sometimes they feel like giving up or end up signing any collective agreement, which does not benefit them. Because this situation is painful”, analyzes the director.


Firefighter on the front line of the Brumadinho tragedy – Photo: Publicity/Fernando Moreira


Minas Gerais has 39 dams in danger level. According to the National Mining Agency (ANM), 14 dams of this type in the state did not even have a technical project completed until the beginning of January — 11 are by Vale. In this context, Fernando Moreira reinforces that mining companies should prioritize lives and sustainable socio-environmental treatment. “They should redo the plans, strengthen security and reduce the profit margin thinking about the well-being of people.” The director comments that, in the lower court decision, which included 131 employees, published in June 2021, Vale claimed that the amount of BRL 1 million per death would be “absurd”. Fernando repudiates the lack of humanity and ethics of companies and says that this documentary is a form of resistance. “This little ant work that resulted in the documentary has the power to be a resistance to a hegemonic power. It is an attempt to counterbalance that power.”

The aftermath of the disaster is demonstrated in the film in detail. Coldness and loss of vitality is represented with a cold color palette, with shades of blue to reinforce detachment. The sound system was designed to enhance silence, according to the director. “There are very few stretches of trails, they are very important moments, reinforcing the idea of ​​absence.” The scene in which Evanir hugs his son in silence for a while has immense strength, as an example. “There is a silent scream, showing that there is an absence there. At that moment, many people get emotional, put themselves in that situation and think: ‘How is life resumed?’”

After the festival period, Fernando plans to make the film accessible to everyone and even offer the documentary to be used in classrooms. “The persistence in broadcasting this film ‘screams’ in disquieting silence. All the hundreds of silenced voices will echo”, hopes the director.

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