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112 min. Portuguese.

Over a period of four years, Camila Freitas documented the lives of a group of landless workers in the Brazilian state of Goiás. Since 2015, the workers have occupied a portion of a factory site and demanded land reform. Chão provides insights into the group’s everyday routine, which is divided up between tilling the land, political activism and talk of what a better future might look like. The film thus delves into the microstructures of local political action while also demonstrating just how dependent the Landless Workers Movement is on Brazilian politics, global capital and the agricultural industry. Occupying a space between frank realism and potent atmospherics that draw their power from poetic digressions, such as deliberately exaggerated moments on the soundtrack, impressionistic close-ups and cinematographic micro-narrations, Chão documents life in the resistance, where hope can sometimes seem like the only thing capable of countering the realities of the world. It was only recently that Jair Bolsonaro, the new president of Brazil, added the landless to the list of enemies of the nation and called on landowners to take up arms to defend their property. (Alejandro Bachmann)

Camila Freitas was born in Lauro de Freitas in the state of Bahia, Brazil in 1983. She studied film at the Universidade de Brasília (UnB) from 2001 to 2004, and at the Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF) in Rio from 2004 to 2007. Between 2007 and 2013, she lived and worked in Paris as a camera assistant and cinematographer. From 2007 to 2008, she studied at the Ecole nationale supérieure Louis-Lumière in Saint-Denis, France, specialising in cinematography. She works as a cinematographer and filmmaker. Chão is her first feature-length film.

Land means power – the Landless Workers’ Movement

Grandma and P. C. are fighting for a small parcel of land where they can settle down, farm organic crops, live off the fruits of their labour, and be part of a tight-knit farmer community – at least that’s the dream. Grandma, a 70-year-old former baker, recently left the city to join the Landless Workers’ Movement (Movimento dos Sem Terra, MST), who have occupied the premises of an insolvent sugar processing plant. More than 600 families have settled on the occupied property, where they now cultivate the land. Grandma has become a central, beloved figure amongst them. P. C. is a middle-aged former worker of the occupied plant. Together with his family, he joined the movement 15 years ago and is now involved in researching organic farming methods. The film’s starting point is Grandma and P. C.’s at once particular and universal dream of leading a self-determined life and of laying the foundations for the collective pursuit of the higher goal of land reform, which the MST has tirelessly fought for since its founding.
The protagonists’ needs and desires are the same as those of many other Brazilians who live in extreme poverty in urban peripheries or rural areas and are also unable to acquire their own piece of land. To this day, the fundamental right to land and the guarantee that every landed property will fulfil its social function, prescribed by the constitution since 1988, remain far from enforced.

A highly capitalist division of territory
“Land is power, and redistributing income requires land reform,” says one of the movement’s coordinators in the film. The concentration of land ownership is firmly anchored in Brazilian history. The former oligarchical structure has given way to a highly capitalist division of territory, with most of the arable land in the hands of a few: less than 3% of the population owns more than half of the farmland, while two thirds of the country’s arable land is not farmed at all. And while almost 80% of the food for national consumption is produced by small enterprises, the owners of the large agro-industrial enterprises mainly produce goods for export, often without regard for labour and environmental laws.
The MST is one of the major farmers’ movements in Latin America, which is committed to pressuring the Brazilian government into implementing land reform. In its 35 years of existence, the movement has helped 1.5 million people acquire 17 million acres of land, in the process suffering setbacks and repressive measures on behalf of the state and the media, ranging from constant defamation to police massacres.
The film portrays a unique community of farm workers from different backgrounds, united by the common struggle for land reform to which they have dedicated their lives. The occupied land is an enclave on the territory of an agro-industrial enterprise; the occupiers share the land according to political prescriptions and their personal needs. Their time is shared between tending crops, the occupation of the land, participating in court hearings and their rural day-to-day. Through this lifestyle, they are reinventing themselves, as well as the notion of a rural resistance movement.

The landscape as central narrative element
CHÃO is my first feature-length documentary, and it’s the result of four years of deep immersion into the life of the Brazilian land reform movement. I spent a long time with the members of the community in Goiás, in central Brazil, where I developed a strong relationship with some of the activists. Work on the film began in a familiar context, in the place where I grew up and where part of my family still practises organic farming.
The structure of the film reflects my experiences with the members of the movement. As a result, the land issue is approached through their perspective, which they shared with me over the years. The mise en scène is built around a highly visual approach, somewhere between an observational documentary and an essay film, in which the landscape is one of the central narrative elements. The film is also marked by the collaboration with the protagonists and the generous insight they gave us into their private lives, and into the movement’s plans and actions.
The film was completed at a time when the country is experiencing an unprecedented level of political division. With Jair Bolsonaro’s inauguration as the new Brazilian president, the country’s conservative forces, which have historically had an intimate relationship with the big landowners, will gain more leverage than ever before. During his time as a delegate of the Brazilian National Congress and member of a rural affairs committee, as well as during his presidential campaign, Bolsonaro repeatedly promised to bring down the MST, to use all means at his disposal to suppress their struggle, and to classify and prosecute all MST members as terrorists. The reason why the ruling class of big landowners feels so threatened by the Landless Workers’ Movement and other human rights activists is that they are not only campaigning for the expropriation of vast, unused plots of land, but have also made the necessary development towards more sustainable lifestyles one of their key demands. (Camila Freitas)

Production Leonardo Barboza Feliciano, Camila Machado Garcia de Lima, Francisco Ramos Craesmeyer, Douglas Duarte. Production company Trotoar (Brasília, Brazil). Directed by Camila Freitas. Screenplay Camila Freitas, Marina Meliande. Cinematography Camila Freitas, Cris Lyra, Ana Carolina Matias. Editing Marina Meliande, Fred Benevides. Music Celio Barros, Michelle Agnes Magalhães. Sound design Daniel De Franco, Matheus Miguens. Sound Camila Machado, Olívia Hernández, Martha Suzana, Apollo Campos.

World sales FiGa Films
Premiere February 10, 2019, Forum


2003: Passarim / Birdie (15 min.). 2010: De asfalto e Terra Vermelha / Asphalt and Red Earth (35 min., co-directed by Antoine d’Artemare). 2014: Ararat (14 min., co-directed by Juruna Mallon and Lucas Parente). 2019: Chão / Landless.

Photo: © Camila Freitas

Funded by:

  • Logo Minister of State for Culture and the Media
  • Logo des Programms NeuStart Kultur