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Between January 2007 and December 2013, 38,000 people disappeared in Rio de Janeiro. This ominous inter-title opens Dan Jackson’s In the Shadow of the Hill. The disappearances, we learn, are related to Rio winning the bids to host the World Cup in 2014 and the summer Olympics in 2016. With the international perception of Rio as being unlawfully controlled by drug traffickers, the priority of the governments of Brazil and Rio became to guarantee a safe environment for these events. A process they called “pacification.” A daunting task considering in Rocinha (Rio’s largest favela) residents say it can be hard to separate the police from criminals.

For the state to achieve “pacification,” tanks and soldiers shouldering assault weapons engage in a pseudo occupation of their own neighborhoods. These aggressive policies, meant to stabilize the favelas and curb the influence of drug cartels, led to police persecution. Even regular civilians began to disappear without explanation. Amarlido, a lawful resident of Rocinha, was one of the men whose vanishing In the Shadow of the Hill investigates.

Clever handheld camera work lets us wind through the labyrinth of the favela. Life happens all at once in Rochina, kids are at play while armed soldiers sharply turn corners with their guns raised. There is a distinct beauty that Dan Jackson, a first time director from Australia, understands and captures in the favela’s sprawl. Every frame is vivid and filled with bold colors. He also finds power in his well-crafted close ups. For a first time director you feel as if you watching an experienced craftsman.