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Manda Bala
Manda Bala
Actors: Jader Barbalho, Claudio Fonteles, Helbio Dias, Juarez Avelar, Paulo Lamarao
Director: Jason Kohn
Genres: Special Interests, Documentary
NR     2008     1hr 25min

DVD Special Features: — Audio Commentary with Director and Producers — Additional Scenes: The S.U.D.A.M. Scheme; Tricking of the Frogs, Egg of Columbus; The Complete Ear Reconstruction Surgery; Singing to the Frogs, Bulletpr...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Jader Barbalho, Claudio Fonteles, Helbio Dias, Juarez Avelar, Paulo Lamarao
Director: Jason Kohn
Genres: Special Interests, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Special Interests, Documentary
Studio: wea
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen,Anamorphic - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 04/08/2008
Release Year: 2008
Run Time: 1hr 25min
Screens: Color,Widescreen,Anamorphic
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 6
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English, Portuguese

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Movie Reviews

Best Doc of 2007
James LeJeune | 03/26/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"If Tarantino made documentaries, this is what they'd look like. Beautifully lensed, perfectly edited, and laced throughout with a killer soundtrack of brazillian tunes, this movie grabs you from the first moment and captivates till the last frame. Rather than beating you over the head with it's message, or concocting a bogus narrative to tell a specific story, instead, Manda Bala interweaves numerous characters and their various roles in the drama of Sao Paulo's infamous daily kidnappings. These interwoven tales are so expertly layered that the filmmakers intended conclusions appear innescapable. It's a simply brillant piece of documentary work that everyone should see."
Greg | 03/11/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Normally I don't watch documentaries, but I was sent this one as a screener and it was terrific ! ! It was a winner at this years Sundance Film Festival and features some of the best most honest interesting interviews I have ever seen. It manages to show all sides to the business of kidnapping in Brazil, from victim to perpetrator, to police & prosecutors to the corrupt judicial officials who refuse to convict government officials who break the law of the land.

Well worth the purchase price and the investment of time to watch."
Powerful & Revealing Documentary
Compay | New Orleans, LA | 03/29/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Director Jason Kohn does an amazing job demonstrating the tie that binds a variety of strangers in Sao Paolo, from frog farmers and plastic surgeons, to kidnapping victims and the city's police. It's the butterfly effect at it's darkest.

The documentary paints an amazing portrait of Sao Paolo, whose class system seems largely the result of centuries of corruption. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is a comparison that is unusually never directly pointed out. The frogs being farmed are cooped up, and will occasionally eat one another. In a film highlighting people living in a crime-ridden and impoverished city, the subtle comparison fits perfectly.

The real footage of kidnap victims is totally raw, and the interview with the kidnapper is both profound and gritty. The documentary is shot and framed well, and offers some amazing views of the good and bad that Sao Paolo has to offer. If you enjoy a documentary that makes you think, you should absolutely add Manda Bala to your collection."
Manda Bala - One of the Most Important Documentaries on Corr
Mark | East Coast | 04/02/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

Manda Bala tackles some very difficult themes in a way that is factual yet palatable enough to draw an audience into the story. Kidnapping and human trafficking have increasingly been in the public eye in recent years. These traumatic crimes take an incredible toll on victims and society at large. This documentary centers on Brazil's crown city, Sao Paolo. There the wealthy live in proximity to a large poor population, creating an environment where a kidnapping epidemic is flourishing. Ultimately, poverty increases the incentive for the poor to turn to kidnapping as a means to economic survival.

Yet first time director Jason Kohn presents this dark reality with stylistic and slick imagery and music. This dichotomy mirrors the irony of such a grim problem plaguing one of the most beautiful and alluring countries in the world.

Sao Paolo has about 20 million inhabitants, which is more than twice the size of the NY metropolitan area in terms of population. Combined with the fact that the anti-kidnapping unit is only 80 men strong, the authorities are simply too overwhelmed to prevent and respond to these incidents.

Many people associate these problems with Central and South American nations. Yet while Mexico City leads the Western hemisphere in total kidnappings per city, many people would be surprised to learn that Phoenix, Arizona has recently become the number two city in terms of kidnapping incidents. So this documentary highlights a problem that is relevant for Brazil as well as for the USA. Yet so much of this film's effectiveness is based on the way the film-maker highlights the unique circumstances surrounding the complicated mix of social and economic issues that allow kidnappings to flourish.

What does a frog farm have to do with kidnapping? How does government corruption play a role when the kidnappers themselves mostly operate independently? And why have government programs designed to alleviate poverty actually become part of the problem? These are the complicated web of questions that the director presents.

Yet none of the director's biases or opinions are clear from any of the interview segments. Rather, he cleverly presents interviews that represents all the different sides of the problem. Instead of simple answers, we get a thought provoking and multi-layered depiction. By showing the issue from multiple points of view, we get deeper insight into the many areas of Brazil's society that contribute to these problems.

As part of the interviews, we get to see a profile of the anti-kidnapping division. One of the officers proudly displays his personal arsenal, including about a dozen weapons he owns for his own protection. He even admits that he has illegally bought assault rifles from the black market. One can't help but to be pessimistic when even law enforcement officers feel the need to have their own personal weapons stockpiles.

Physical violence is a large part of the kidnapping problem. Kidnappers often cut ears and fingers off their victims to prove to their families that they mean business. We even have some coverage of a plastic surgeon who makes his living reconstructing cut off ears from rib cartilage. But psychological warfare is also inherent in kidnapping. According to one of the people in the movie, one person is being kidnapped every day in Sao Paolo. Kidnappers use fear tactics to extract the largest ransoms possible and keep victims from fighting back.

There is also an emphasis on corrupt government officials who have used their positions of power in order to exploit the programs that are designed to assist the poor. In Brazil, politicians in office are exempt from criminal prosecution. So, as stated by one interviewee, "They steal because they know they will never be punished." As the funds meant to ease poverty continue to be diverted, more and more poor people have fewer alternatives to the extremely lucrative draw of kidnapping.

And perhaps in his boldest move, the director profiles one of the actual kidnappers. His justifications are difficult to accept: he doesn't think about the consequences of his actions and actually sees himself as a sort of a "Robin Hood" figure.


Few documentaries present such a polarizing issue from so many points of view. I highly recommend this film to all those interested in the problems of kidnapping and human trafficking. Even those unfamiliar with those subjects will find themselves drawn into this movie. Just be forewarned that a few scenes are difficult to watch. But for making a captivating movie out of such a difficult subject, the director deserves a lot of credit.