Straight talk from Padilha on 'Elite'


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BERLIN -- "Elite Squad" director Jose Padilha made a call for drugs to be legalized and suggested that the Brazilian police might have been responsible for the infamous piracy incident that propelled "Elite" to the top of the Brazilian boxoffice.

Speaking to a roomful of journalists Monday at a Berlin International Film Festival news conference, Padilha said that the police might have been trying to seek revenge for the film, which shows mass corruption and violence within the force and is narrated by an officer of Brazil's so-called Elite Squad.

Before the gathering, journalists attended a chaotic screening of the Portuguese-language competition title, which was shown with German subtitles after the English version failed to materialize. Non-German speakers were offered the option of simultaneous translation, with some receiving headphones that didn't work. A second screening of the English version was arranged by sales company the Weinstein Co. for Monday night.

More than 11 million people saw "Elite" illegally after a single copy was stolen and distributed, and after the police decided to sue Padilha and throw him in jail.

"I don't know how it happened," he said. "We have a very corrupt and violent police force. In the U.S., which has a population of 300 million, the police kill 200 people each year; 1,200 people get killed in Rio alone each year, and Brazil only has a population of 10 million.

"If you add to this figure the number of murders in Brazil, more people die each year than have died since the beginning of the Palestinian uprising, the Intifada, in Israel."

The director went some way to explain the position of the police at the news conference, saying: "We pay our policemen $400 or $500 a month. Who would blame them for not wanting to go up the favelas and deal with heavily armed drug lords?"

It's a situation he knows only too well, having made conscious decisions to protect his own life during the making of the film. "I started making "Elite" as a documentary, he said. "But after a couple of days I realized I might be killed. That's how I became a feature filmmaker."

Attacking Brazilian laws, which penalize poor kids selling drugs with lengthy prison sentences but allow the "rich kids" buying drugs to get off with a warning, Padilha added: "The drug business should be legalized. Many people die from it in Brazil. It is an economic transaction, and the laws deal with it unfairly.

"It should be dealt with like they did with cigarettes. Once they started advertising that cigarettes gave you cancer, people stopped smoking. They should do the same with drugs."