Battle for Rio takes you on a pre-Olympic tour of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and looks at what Rio is doing to clean-up its violent slums prior to hosting the games.

READ: news special report, The Bungle in the Jungle: Brazil's Dreamiest World Cup Adventure

Rio de Janeiro is known for its stunning natural settings, lively carnival celebrations and magnificent beaches. But for three decades, its spectacular hills have been plagued by drugs and violence. The favelas, the city’s urban slums, are home to millions of people. The vast majority of residents are ordinary people with ordinary jobs, but turf wars between drug trafficking gangs against the fearsome Military Police have turned the favelas into war zones. 

Photo: Mauricio Hora

In preparation for the upcoming  2016 Olympic Games, Rio has decided to take back the hills with a unique experiment – a “pacification process.” The city has engaged in an ambitious security operation aimed at freeing its favelas from the control of gangs and drug traffickers with new neighbourhood police forces, the UPP or Police Pacification Units. However, security is not the only rationale behind the program. As with everything, economic interests and international exposure are driving Rio's dramatic makeover.

Márcia has lived in Providencia, Rio’s first favela, for 52 years. Her neighbourhood is slated for demolition to make room for a cable car. “They want to expropriate us,” she says. “But they’re not offering anything in exchange.”

Photo: Rodrigo Torres

Racked by some of the highest murder and gun crime rates in the world, these poor but strong communities located all across Rio, from the very center to the far periphery, have become as much a part of the city's image as the beaches and carnival. But some of the favelas are beginning to change. Latin America's most talked about “pacification process” has allowed police to regain control of dozens of favelas. And there are plans to pacify another 60 or so, including 15 strategically located around Rio’s Maracanã Soccer Stadium. In general, the population welcomed the strong police presence and the reduction in drug violence. However, as the promised deluge of public goods and services failed to materialize, many residents have become skeptical of the program's true intention.

Lula, 29, was born in Babilônia. Perched above the famed Copacabana, it was one of the favelas chosen for pacification. “When you’re born in the favela you’re expected to become a gangster,” he says. Raised amongst members of Rio’s drug trafficking gangs, Lula defies the stereotypes by driving a motorbike taxi while studying law. He says the result of the pacification is social control. “Sadly, the laws are created on high by people who don’t listen,” he says. He wants authorities to come to the favelas and listen to the residents help solve its problems.

Photo: Rodrigo Torres

Battle for Rio also introduces former gangsters gone clean. Claudio “Gaucho” Piuma is the most powerful living trafficker in Rio’s history. While he serves out his last sentence on partial release, he’s become a key figure in the pacification, working with the group Afro Reggae, which is helping traffickers demobilize and rejoin the job market. So far they’ve gotten 3,200 traffickers to leave their old life, using the methods of its founder, Jose Junior. He started Afro Reggae in response to the violent deaths of almost all his childhood friends. He says, “What’s your strategy for getting a young boy into a gang? Let’s use the same strategy to get him out of crime. So we use the same strategies, not for bad, but for good.”

Through personal stories and with unparalleled access, Battle for Rio shows the complex reality and the direct consequences of the ambitious government plan.

Battle for Rio is directed by Gonzalo Arijón and produced by Christoph Jörg for Pumpernickel Films.

Credits (Click to expand)


Christoph Jörg


Associate Producer

Corinne Weber


A film by

Gonzalo Arijón


Written by

Gonzalo Arijón & Anne Vigna



Anne Vigna


Director of Photography

Pablo Zubizarreta


Sound Engineer

Fabián Oliver



Yann Coquart


Addditional Editors

Fred Charcot

Fernando Epstein

Claudio Hughes

Carolina Lutenberg

William Roy


Assistant Editors

Catherine Birukoff

Jean-Marie Fourage

Francine Gamblin

Marie Augustine Aldighieri

Franco Lamanna


Asistant Camera

Rodrigo Torres



Antonio Venancio



Agência O Dia

Casa Brasil / Agencia JB

Conteudo Expresso / Tv Globo

Junior Francisco Alves

Little Bear Productions

Monica Grandchamp


Translations & Subtitles


Christophe Buffet

Letícia Falcão

Pauline Gras

Matthieu Rougé

Alan Thawley

André Cruz de Melo

Luanda Cardoso

Carolina Freitas da Cunha

Silvana Jeha





Guillermo Fernández

Sound Design

Fabián Oliver

Assisted by

Martin Vidal de Rosa


Sound Mix

Georges Lafitte

Assisted by

Philippe Lauliac


Original Music

Lasse Enersen


With the participation of

National Symphonic Orchestra of the

Republic of Czechoslovakia

Directed by Adam Klemens


Additional Music

Florencia Di Concilio


Additional Music Titles

Battle for Rio 1

Battle for Rio 2


With the voice of

Dominic Gould


A Co-Production

Pumpernickel Films

ARTE France

First Floor Films

In association with

Canal Brasil

André Saddy

CBC News Network

Catherine Olsen

DR Danish

Also on CBC