Remembering Saul Landau

Haskell Wexler & Saul Landau reflecting on film, Brazil: A Report on Torture

I first met Saul Landau at the Fruitvale station of the San Francisco BART Sunday morning, on March 24th of this year.

He picked me up in his grey Camry and was wearing a CAL POLY college sweatshirt.

"What do you think of San Francisco so far? Are you hungry? We're all going for Chinese," he asks as I get in his car.

Three hours before I was on a jet blue flight, intensely taking notes on possible questions for the filmmakers that I would spend the afternoon with. My stomach was churning, to say the least.

"Yes, yes, and thank you, I just don't know where to begin. Thank you." was all I managed to get out.

In February of 2012 I saw a film that would change the course of my life for the next two years-

A film made by this man and Oscar winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler.

The name of the film is Brazil: A report on Torture, and it was released in 1971. It is a compilation of testimonies given by Brazilian leftists living in exile in Chile as they describe the torture inflicted on them in the political prisons during the Brazilian military regime that was in power between 1964-1985. Since then, I have met and interviewed several of the revolutionaries connected to the film and have become incredibly invested in understanding the complexities of the resistance movement during this time of political repression in Brazil.

Saul and Haskell never forgot the spirit of these young Brazilians, their desire for social change, and their belief in potential for humanity despite the inhumanity they had fallen victim to.

In March of this year, Saul invited me to his home to speak with him and Haskell about this film and how it had inspired a project of my own. 

I was so curious. They had originally gone to Chile to document the election and overall political climate that brought Salvador Allende to the presidency, but they found out that a group of Brazilian political prisoners had just been released from jail and given asylum in Chile.

“Why did you chose this story?” I asked. “What did you think was your purpose in crafting this story for the world? Was it specifically for an audience back in the States?”

"We were just activists with a camera." Saul replied. He and Haskell then went back and forth as they reflected on the injustice that was taking place in Brazil. They wanted the world to know about it through their film.

At one point during the day, Saul turned to me and said, "Why do I do this? Well, for one thing, you're here."

Indeed, I was.

I had made the trip to California and was now sitting there behind a borrowed SONY NXCAM handheld (that belonged to Saul). And I was there because I was struck by the stories these two filmmakers collected 40 years before. Those stories gave me a window into my background as a child of Brazilian parents. Those stories informed their intended audiences then, and have since then immortalized the young Brazilian revolutionaries, some of who are no longer with us. 

I understood that he was making a statement on how film brings people together but that statement most definitely struck a cord with me.

On this past Wednesday evening, September 10th, I received the news that Saul Landau had just passed away.

 I was incredibly distraught. In fact, I am still incredibly distraught. I stayed in touch with him as I journeyed from Brazil to Europe to continue the narrative that Haskell and Saul had started in their 1971 film.

My heart goes out to his family (of whom he constantly spoke as he went through the photos he kept on his fridge at his Alameda home), to his friends, and to any person he has touched in his meaningful life.

And yet I cannot help but feel joy and gratitude for our time spent together.

I cannot help but be inspired by the spirit that Saul possessed and that is still very much alive. 

That spirit drives us to take risks, to support unpopular causes, to ask the inconvenient questions, and to collect the unexpected but incredibly poignant stories that we want the world to hear. I cannot help but believe that in the process of living this life, Saul's incredible spirit lives in his films, his books, his poetry, his incredibly talented family and within any investigative soul who has a thirst for telling the stories left untold.

You are missed Saul, but in my short experience of knowing you, I've indeed been captivated by this spirit.

And If I could say one more thing to you, I would repeat the only thing I managed to say on that Sunday morning-

Thank you.

To honor Saul, I needed to share this incredibly personal story. Nevertheless, the NYT did a wonderful review of his work (link to follow).

I recommend it: