Dangerous Cities: Rio

Beyond the idyllic beaches of Copacabana, the energy of samba music, and the watchful eye of Christ the Redeemer, there is another side to the city of Rio de Janeiro. It’s a city in a state of perpetual war. Heavily-armed drug dealers control the favelas, while specially-trained police battle to take them down. Sometimes favelas become battlefields. That’s what happened in Jacarezinho in May 2021, when a police drugs bust turned into a bloodbath, and left 28 dead.

There is also inter-gang violence, where increasingly heavily-armed gangs fight for territory. The ordinary people who live in the favelas are trapped by gunfire which comes from all sides. They are surrounded by urban warfare, collateral damage of the drug trade. They aren’t even safe in their own homes, as bullets can go through walls. Three people a day are killed by stray bullets in Rio de Janeiro. The emergency rooms are full of people with bullet wounds. Every day, the doctors have to deal with wounds that you would expect to see on the battlefield.

We were given special access to the Rio Military Police Special Forces Battalion (BOPE), and were able to film them operating in high-risk situations. Their tactics follow the same pattern every time: they strike fast, and they strike hard. The strategy often puts lives at risk – both the lives of local people who live in the favelas, and the lives of the police themselves. The Brazilian police commit more police shootings than almost any other force in the world, but they also have the highest rate of deaths in the line of duty. 

In the streets of Rio, crime is rife, but outside of the favelas it takes the form of bag snatching, armed robbery and kidnappings. The locals live in fear. They fortify their houses with razor wire, security gates and CCTV. More and more of them now buy guns for self-defence. President Jair Bolsonaro openly encourages this, as a vocal advocate for gun rights. Since his election, laws around gun ownership and carrying weapons have been relaxed, and the number of guns registered in Rio has doubled. 


  • Year: 2022
  • Duration: 59 mins
  • Production: Babel
  • Director:
  • Available Versions: ENG, FRA
  • Country of production: France

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