In Petra Costa’s work the personal and the political are inextricably linked. Her latest film, The Edge of Democracy, is a Netflix Original documentary that had its premiere at the opening night of Sundance Film Festival in 2019. According to First Showing, “the footage she shares is truly jaw-dropping” and shows “an astounding inside look at the recent political shake up in Brazil, examining and showing us directly how democracy is collapsing thanks to political power grabs”. It has “all the feel of an All The President’s Men-style political thriller….. with the sweep of The Godfather”, as the ScreenDaily put it. For POV magazine, this “political documentary is like none other, a work both intimate and grand in scope”.
The Edge of Democracy is the third documentary of a trilogy where Petra investigates her family story. The first, Undertow Eyes, portrays her grandparents recollections and stories, in a personal and existential tale about love and death. It screened at the MOMA in 2010 and won best short Film at the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival 2009, best short Film at the London International Documentary Festival, and best short tilm the 13th Cine Las Americas International Film Festival among others.
The second of the trilogy, ELENA, her first documentary feature, is a mixture of documentary, diary and fever dream, and was the most watched documentary in Brazil in 2013. It tells the story of two sisters – and as one searches for the other their identities begin to blur. The film was called “a cinematic dream” by the New York Times, “haunting and unforgettable” by the Hollywood Reporter and was defined as a “masterful debut that takes nonfiction where it seldom wants to go – away from the comforting embrace of fact and into a realm of expressionistic possibility” by Indiewire. ELENA premiered at IDFA followed by SXSW and Hotdocs won many prizes such as best film at Havana Film Festival (2013), best film at DOCSDF, best directing, editing, and best film for the popular jury at the Brasília Film Festival, and was nominated for Best Cinematography at the 2014 Cinema Eye Honors.
Beyond this trilogy Petra co-directed Olmo and the Seagull which “explores with thrilling boldness a space between fiction and nonfiction that I never dreamed possible”, as Joshua Oppenheimer, director of The Act of Killing, wrote. It was reviewed by Télérama as “a reflection without taboos, full of humor and daring, on creation in the broadest sense.” OLMO AND THE SEAGULL premiered at Locarno where it won the Young Jury Prize. It also won the Best Nordic Dox Award at CPH:DOX, best documentary at the Rio Film Festival, best documentary at the Cairo Film Festival and best narrative at the RiverRun International film festival among others.
Petra started her training in theater in Brazil at the age of fourteen and later went to the Dramatic Arts School at the University of São Paulo. She completed her undergraduate studies Summa Cum Laude in Anthropology at Barnard College, Columbia University, New York, and
completed her masters in Social Psychology at the London School of Economics focusing her studies on the concept of trauma.