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Gritty Brazilian cop drama bags award

entertainment Updated: Feb 18, 2008 00:23 IST

A movie about police violence in Rio de Janeiro that caused controversy in Brazil, Tropa de Elite (The Elite Squad), won the top Golden Bear award at the annual Berlin Film Festival.

Oscar contender There Will Be Blood took two prizes, including best director for Paul Thomas Anderson. Sally Hawkins was named best female actor for her part in British director Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky, while Iran’s Reza Naji took the best male actor award for the lead role in The Song of Sparrows.

Elite Squad, which is directed by Jose Padilha and looks at the shady workings of Rio’s Special Operations Police Battalion, faced an unsuccessful attempt by some officers to keep it out of theaters at the time of its release last year. It has since become a box-office hit in Brazil.

It is not a documentary, but claims to tell the true stories of 12 former officers from the black-uniformed paramilitary unit whose very insignia — a dagger-impaled skull — strikes fear into residents of Rio's shantytowns. Human rights groups have claimed the squad, which battles with armed drug gangs, fires indiscriminately. “The film already became a very big thing in Brazil, and this reward gives us the strength to go forward,” producer Marcos Prado said as he and Padilha accepted the Golden Bear statuette Saturday evening.

The movie “aims to explain how the state turns ... people who join the police either into corrupted people, or people that don’t really want to do anything with their jobs or, worst of all, violent people,” Padilha told reporters later. “I’m very happy that Berlin got it.”

The festival’s jury grand prize, which comes with a runner-up Silver Bear, went to Oscar-winning U.S. director Errol Morris’s Standard Operating Procedure,” a documentary on the scandal over prisoner abuse at the US-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Morris spent nearly two years pursuing interviews with soldiers involved in the notorious photos of abuse that emerged from the facility, combining them with re-enacted scenes.

Morris said the prize was “a terrific award for me” and would also help expand its audience.