The Star Hidden in the Backlands

Second documentary produced by Luize Valente and photographer Elaine Eiger, in 2005, which won the Best Documentary Award at the Jewish Film Festival of São Paulo in 2005.

Having the northeastern backlands as its backdrop, this is a journey into the roots of Brazil, where customs and traditions point to be of Jewish origins, causing confrontation with official Judaism when a group of people decides to claim this identity.


What’s the relation between Luciano Oliveira, a young physician from Paraíba, João Medeiros, a retired engineer from Natal and Odmar Braga, a black policeman from Pernambuco? They were all born into Christian families in the northeastern backlands of Brazil and they all practice Judaism. They have not converted. They have returned.

Do you find it curious? Unusual? Judaism in the backlands?

Not to mention Monsignor Araújo, a renowned priest of Seridó, who is extremely Catholic but presents himself as a Diaspora Jew. And Dona Cabocla, born and raised in the backlands, a passionate Catholic, devotee of 26 saints, despite of her not so Christian customs, such as praying to the new moon, wrapping the dead in a shroud and burying them with no casket.

Customs such as not eating pork, placing stones on tombstones and covering mirrors when mourning have taken roots in the backlands of the northeast, and they would have, 200 years ago, led their practitioners to the pyres of the Portuguese Inquisition. For Dona Cabocla, they’re unconscious rituals. For Monsignor Araújo, they’re nothing but a historical inheritance. For Luciano, João and Odmar, an indication to embrace their Jewish condition.

And what happens when these Jews from the backlands meet head-on with the official Judaism represented by the Orthodox? Are they accepted as Jews?

The documentary The Star Hidden in the Backlands brings face to face two sides of the same coin. When official Judaism is confronted with the Judaism of the returned, matters such as tolerance, identity, prejudice and faith arise. To what extent is recognition by others more important than our own belief in who we are?

Duration: 85 minutes
Producer: Fototema

Research, script, production, photography, direction, edition:
Luize Valente and Elaine Eiger

Research consultory and special participation:
Anita Novinsky, Historian / USP
Paulo Valadares, Historian and genealogist / USP
Nathan Wachtel, Antropologist / Collège de France

Groups Longa Florata and Música Antiga da UFF
Banda Klezmer Brasil (special guest)