In times of great tragedies, there are more things to admire in human beings than to despise.
“When we began recording, I must confess, I was afraid, very afraid, because it was a complicated situation of which we had very little knowledge of, but after I started going through the day-to-day activities of the SUS (Sistema Único de Saúde - Brazil’s public health system) employees, especially women on the front line, I couldn’t help but take a deep breath and dive head-on into the real stories behind the epic fight against Covid-19”, says Ana Petta, one of the directors of Out of Breath, the winning film at most prestigious Latin American documentary film festival, É Tudo Verdade (It’s all true).
In March 2020, Ana's sister, the infectologist Helena Petta, had a baby and was working from home. Patient consultations as well as teaching medical students had to be done online.
Information about the fight against Covid-19 in hospitals arrived every day, “my colleagues called me, telling me the stories of their battles against Covid-19 and the government’s neglect in dealing with the situation. It was a double struggle - against the virus and the previous government’s necropolitics.
Between 2020 and 2022, more than 700,000 people died in Brazil, victims of Covid-19. The denialist government of Jair Bolsonaro, former president of Brazil, is currently being investigated by the STF (Brazilian Federal Supreme Court) for criminal public incitement after posting a video questioning the result of the presidential elections in Brazil in 2022.
“It was stronger than fear”, says Ana Petta. The sisters began recording people, including their colleagues, that were on the front lines. “The real characters, the stories, arrived without us having to look too hard. We started filming in one place only, but as the virus spread, we felt the need to record the work of professionals in other cities and in SUS different locations and situations, such as prisons, remote areas, primary care and in emergencies,” says Helena.
During the shooting, the two directors decided that their mission was to go well beyond what mainstream journalism was showing daily - images of ICUs and mass graves of people who died because of the virus. “We wanted to show the individual dramas, not “only'' the lack of space available to allow the deceased to be buried with dignity as shown by reporters. We wanted to show that the burial of a single person represents the tragedy of us all”, says Helena.
It's 81 minutes of deep breathing. The film has delicate sequences and intimate shots, it is like inviting the audience to walk through narrow streets, navigate the Amazon’s rivers and feel the embrace and touch of the patients as seen by the SUS workers.
During the recordings, all recommended and necessary precautions were taken in a “neurotic” and obsessive way. They tested themselves frequently, disinfected their equipment daily, and stayed together so as to not become infected themselves which in turn could have jeopardized the entire project“, says Ana.
The crew visited five Brazilian states between October 2020 and January 2021. In São Paulo (Hospital das Clínicas), Recife (UBS in Morro da Conceição), Pará (Municipal Hospital in Castanhal and health team in Igarapé Miri), in Salvador (Lemos de Brito Penitentiary complex) and in Manaus (SOS Funeral).
Out of Breath will be released in Brazilian cinemas in February in more than 200 cities.
About the directors
Ana Petta: Graduated in Performing Arts from the University of São Paulo (ECA/USP), idealized and produced the documentary “Repare Bem” by Maria de Medeiros and co-directed the documentary Oswaldão. She is an actress and creator of the TV series Basic Unit, available on GloboPlay. In theater, she was an actress with São Jorge de Variedades and Cia do Latão Companies.
Helena Petta: An infectologist with a doctorate at the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of São Paulo. She was a visiting scholar at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University (2020-2021) and created the medical series “Unidade Básica”, together with her sister Ana. Helena is the author of the book: “Basic Unit: Brazilian public health on TV”, published by Hucitec.