For a director who claims to "hate violent movies," Fernando Meirelles certainly has an eye for beauty in brutality. His highly praised film City of God (2002), adapted from author Paulo Lins' harsh Brazilian slice-of-life novel, proved so effective that it was nominated for four Oscars including Best Directing and Best Adapted Screenplay. A São Paulo native, Meirelles first dabbled in film by shooting experimental shorts with a small group of friends; the filmmaking team eventually formed the small independent production company Olhar Electronico. Early work in independent film production eventually found the future director gravitating toward independent television, and after working in the field for about nine years, Meirelles found work in publicity and commercials.
Though Meirelles would court success early on as the director of a popular Brazilian children's television show, his desire to move into feature territory was further fueled when a friend handed him a copy of Lins' sprawling street epic. Noting that the book virtually begged to be adapted for the screen, despite an intimidating story that involved over 350 characters, Meirelles set forth on the daunting task. Though the director had no personal experience in such a crime-ridden setting, Lins' vivid, authentically written words rang especially true due to his childhood in the fearsome Rio de Janeiro neighborhood. It didn't take long for Meirelles to realize that he didn't have the necessary feature experience to tackle such a massive project, so, in order to prepare himself, the director took the helm for the decidedly smaller-scale drama Maids. An episodic feature dealing with five maids who dwell in São Paulo, Maids earned six nominations for the Cinema Brazil Grand Prize and found Meirelles much more comfortable with the large task that lay ahead.
Soon finishing the screenplay for City of God and eventually receiving the blessing of the author, Meirelles gathered a large cast of inexperienced actors and a handful of seasoned thespians and set forth on the large production. Set in the impoverished slum of Cidade de Deus, the film followed two young teens whose paths in life diverge at an early age. As the boys come of age and become ever more influenced and affected by their crime-ridden surroundings, every choice they make seems to have a butterfly effect in the Cidade de Deus. An undeniably powerful film that gained international exposure and acclaim, City of God was honored not only with four Academy Award nominations, but also swept the Cinema Brazil Grand Prize awards and the Havana Film Festival awards. Meirelles went on to tackle issues of globalism in The Constant Gardener (2005), adapted from a John Le Carré novel and starring Ralph Fiennes.