O Zelador, A Story of Capoeira

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Director: Daren Bartlett

Producer: Abigail Clarke

© Bantam Films 2007 / 84 minutes

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The Times "A total must for anybody remotely interested in Brazilian culture and a joy for those who are not." 

Chris Sullivan   


BBC Radio 1 "This film brings together all the elements I love so much about Brazil... You need to see this!"

Gilles Peterson


The Mirror**** "Fascinating, stirring stuff!" 

Jessica Mellor    





O Zelador (The Caretaker), this intelligent and lovingly crafted documentary, is a definitive look at the culture of Capoeira and both its contemporary and historical relevance as a social force.

The intimidating Baixada Fluminense neighbourhood in Rio's tough suburbs is the home to Master Russo, a street Capoeira veteran and highly respected master of the art. A remarkable and engaging individual, at an early age Russo discovered the value of Capoeira. In 1973, at the height of Brazil ́s difficult military dictatorship, Russo was part of a group of youths who created the now famous Capoeira street Roda of Caxias. This traditional manifestation of Capoeira has passed through four decades fraught with poverty and danger, using culture to fight against social exclusion and emerging today as a unique example of this Afro-Brazilian phenomenon.
The director Daren Bartlett has created an intimate portrait of Russo, his wife, sons and his loyal group of students who offer willing testimony to the fact that Russo ́s love, knowledge and guidance have been an inspiration. The film, ably supported by expert use of a wealth of archive footage, world premiered at the Sao Paulo International Film Festival. A fascinating and stirring work.

Bantam Films are proud to announce that O ZELADOR has been officially selected to become part of the British Film Institute National Archive.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Director's notes

In late 2002, I travelled to Rio de Janeiro, with the idea of looking for an interesting subject to possibly film. I began my search cautiously without cameras, wanting to see things as an observer not as a filmmaker. I was interested in Afro-Brazilian culture, so I visited several capoeira groups based in the south zone of Rio. During one of these visits I had the good fortune to meet with Master Russo. He cut a very striking figure and was an intriguing character; he came from Rio's notorious north zone, far from Copacabana and Ipanema's postcard beaches. Russo lived all his life in the vast Baixada Fluminense, an extremely deprived region, home to Rio's oppressed urban poor. I had found my subject and began filming Russo and his family in 2003, and spent 26 months between 2003 and 2007 in Rio filming and researching.

Narratively, I attempted to explore Russo's life, and to show the hidden beauty of the Baixada Fluminense, the sense of community and belonging which exists there, and the importance of family in the face of harsh economic reality. During the course of filming I began to learn about Russo's connection to the Capoeira roda of Caxias, a very traditional manifestation of Capoeira, which had been maintained on the streets of Caxias for 35 years. This presented me with a great opportunity to frame Capoeira in its social and historical context.

As a filmmaker it is rewarding to see the creative process unfold before your eyes, and for me it was extremely gratifying to give expression to marginalised voices, their words highlighting the idiosyncrasies of modern Brazil's social exclusion.

It was not my intention to try to impose a definitive truth about capoeira, but as any culture that is crossing geographic boundaries and being marketed economically, it is perhaps important to show a simple personal viewpoint, that has a sincerity qualified with time and experience. 

As the film's director, O Zelador's worth for me is as a record of black cultural struggle, championing the African descendants' hugely important cultural contribution to contemporary Brazil.

Daren Bartlett 2007

You can listen to the podcast of Daren Bartlett's Q and A after the UK Premiere Screening of O Zelador at the 2007 Cinecity, Brighton Film Festival here