RIO DE JANEIRO - Vila Cruzeiro is one of Rio de Janeiro's most dangerous slums. People are living in poverty surrounded by a drug war. After far-right president Jair Bolsonaro took office, shootings between police and traffickers are much more frequent. Violence in the neighbourhoods is only increasing.

Children are the biggest victims of this. They struggle with trauma and fear. The ideal cocktail for getting picked up by drug criminals in their adolescence itself. 'Some say we won't make it to 18 because we are rascals, says João, He is 13. His friend Kayke has already been hit by a bullet. "I already thought about becoming a traficker, but life in crime has only two outcomes: prison or death," he says.

"The war on drugs is totally absurd," believes human rights activist Raull Santiago. Above all, "nothing changes at all. The queue of young people who want to go into the drug trade is only getting longer. 'It is the ideal way to win votes in our country. According to the rich elite, only criminals live here. The police can just drop in and execute people here.'

Shootings have been on the rise in recent years. Especially after far-right president Jair Bolsonaro took office. "They would be better off investing the money they put into guns in culture and sports," says jiu-jitsu teacher Anderson. A shooting has caused fewer children to come to his class. 'If I can't teach, the violence wins out over my project.' 'If young people here were given the chance to chase their dreams, no one would become a drug criminal.'

Fabienne Haerinck has been going to Vila Cruzeiro for 12 years. She knows the neighbourhood inside out and sets up socio-cultural projects with children there. They call her 'Tia', Auntie. Everyone on the street addresses her. A dozen young people she knows from when they were little have since been murdered. Together with journalist and documentary maker Roel Nollet, she portrays the neighbourhood through the eyes of the children who live there. 

'The boys of Vila Cruzeiro' is a haunting and heartbreaking portrait of people who barely get a chance to tell their stories. It is impossible for most journalists to enter the neighbourhoods. In Flanders too, a war on drugs is being waged - on a smaller scale. In this film, the makers examine where such a thorough policy can lead and what we can learn from it. 

In Brazil, there are presidential elections this month. Former president Lula da Silva won the first round, but Bolsonaro scored better than the polls indicated. A decisive second round will follow on 30 October.

Team members

Roel Nollet

Roel Nollet is an independent journalist and documentary maker with over 10 years of experience in socially engaged documentary projects.

€ 5.400 allocated on 20/03/2020.


  • De kinderen van Vila Cruzeiro, Vranckx & De Nomaden, VRT/Canvas, 15/10/2022.



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