Devil in the Backlands


In the Caatinga scrubland of the wild backlands of north-east Brazil, life is exceptionally hard. Refuge is found in flagellation cults and visits to healers and miracle workers. The extreme religiosity of this area sees massive pilgrimages across the Caatinga in the baking sun to holy sites. The film opens with such a pilgrimage being made by 250,000 people. The majority of the pilgrims are cowboys whose life is a daily struggle with the harsh Caatinga land.


In the small coastal town of Caponga, in northeastern Brazil, a unique community of fishermen carries on a traditional way of life that has existed for centuries. The men go out to sea on their jangadas, small rafts with masts. They stay out at sea for several days before bringing back their catch to the village. The extremely dangerous nature of their way of life is highlighted at the beginning of this film when a jangada returns with a dead fisherman tied to the mast. The film follows the fisherman’s family as the eldest son leaves school and takes over his father’s place on the raft the very next day. His widowed mother receives support from the community.


In the early 1960s Brazil saw a rapid rise of in the number of cults which had their origin in Africa and had been brought to Brazil by the slaves of the previous centuries. This film looks at the Umbanda cult in the suburbs and slums of Recife. The cult merges the gods and goddesses of Africa with Catholic saints and indigenous spirits. The film shows ritual offerings and sacrifices being made. The rituals are conducted in a terreiro (yard) and are led by a pai-de-santo (father of the saint).

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