Bus 174 (2002)

Bus 174 (2002) is a documentary that takes a an extremely detailed look at an event in recent Brazilian history, the Bus 174 Affair. The film follows the event, in which a young man, Sandro, held several people hostage on a bus for over four hours. The film pieces together the story through testimony from the former hostages, the victims remaining family members and friends, and the police involved in the situation. While the events that occurred on the bus (which were broadcast on national television) form the crux of the film, it is the hijacker, Sandro’s, background, as well as the struggles of other street youth, that are the real focus of the film.

The incident on Bus 174 begins with what was most likely a simple routine robbery. Sandro entered the bus with a gun, and demanded valuables from the riders(this kind of robbery is quite common in Latin American countries. A similar routine robbery is described in Alberto Salcemo Ramos’ short piece The Drive-by Victim. Fortunately for Salcemo, his hold-up did not in the tragedy that Bus 174 did). However, the bus becomes stopped, the police become involved, and a standoff ensues. Reporters and news-cameras show up, ensuring that the situation will be seen by millions. Several of the hostages tell their side of the story, as well as some of the police officers present. The tragedy of the Bus situation is death of Sandro, and a woman named Geisa. The failure of the police to take advantage of opportunities against Sandro, leads to a situation were Geisa is shot by an officer, and Sandro, who is shortly thereafter smothered to death in a cop car. That this tragedy occurred, when it could have been avoided, speaks to the fact that “the weight and power of municipal authorities have been weakened significantly in cities where crime and overcrowding have made life a cheap, and disposable, commodity.” (“I Saw a City Invisible”, The City as Division, Mark D. Szuchman, p. 25)

Sandro took to the streets after witnessing his mothers death at a young age, . From there, he gets wrapped up in the bleak existence of a social outcast. Street children are a major problem for Brazil, because of their chronic crime, drug abuse, and violence, and the lack of resources at their disposal. Furthermore, they are looked down upon in general, if they are even noticed at all. Sandro was one of these kids. He began using cocaine and sniffing glue, and getting involved with theft. Hundreds of thousands of children live this way in Brazil, millions throughout the world. Another important event in Sandro’s life was the Candelaria Church Massacre, where 7 street kids were gunned down. Sandro was one of the survivors, but the event would haunt him. At several points during the affair, he yells about being one of the survivors, while blaming the police for the deaths.

The film makes the point that this marginalized existence is one of the main factors that led Sandro to commit his crime. Furthermore, the film takes a lot at the awful and ineffective prison system of Brazil. The bleak prospect of a return to prison is possibly responsible for Sandro’s decision to take hostages.

The film ultimately portrays Sandro as a social victim. Though a criminal nonetheless, it was a desire to be recognized by society, and receive validation, even if as the “bad guy”, that led him to do what he did. The film points out the social structures and inequalities that perpetuate these injustices.