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Based on a true story, ELENA obliterates the line between
documentary, diary and fever dream, and is at once
captivating and devastating. The most watched
documentary in Brazil of 2013 now
comes to America.
  • “With its free-floating imagery, ELENA unfolds like a cinematic dream.”
    Stephen Holden
    The New York Times
  • “Petra Costa unfolds a story of grief and thwarted promise with expressive urgency and thoughtful restraint.”
    Richard Brody
    The New Yorker
  • “ELENA is an elegiac cinematic essay that is both haunting and unforgettable.”
    Frank Scheck
    The Hollywood Reporter
  • “A masterful debut.”
    John Anderson
  • “This mesmerizing portrait, flickering on a screen, immortalizes her even as it's anguished.”
    Alan Scherstuhl
    The Village Voice
  • “Visually stunning and viscerally moving. A film that made me believe again in the transformative power of cinema.”
    Tim Robbins
    actor and director
  • “The most extraordinary documentary I've seen this decade.”
    Fernando Meirelles
    City of God
  • “ELENA is one of the most moving, heartrending cinematic experiences I’ve ever had.”
    Walter Salles
    The Motorcycle Diaries
  • “First, there are three women intermingled. Then, there is search and separation. Elena is now memory. And memory is a living house. ELENA is one of the most beautiful documentaries I have ever seen.”
    Eliane Brum
    Brazilian journalist
  • “Filmmaking at its finest. Memory, loss and yearning mingle dreamily in this striking elegy.”
  • “A haunting visual essay.”
  • “Astounding and lyrical.”
    Filmmaker Magazine
  • “One of the most beautiful Brazilian documentaries in the past few years.”
    Folha de São Paulo
    Brazilian newspaper




With its free-floating imagery, ELENA unfolds like a cinematic dream whose central image is water, which symbolizes the washing away of grief. THE NEW YORK TIMES - Stephen Holden - 5/30/14

Petra Costa unfolds a story of grief and thwarted promise with expressive urgency and thoughtful restraint. THE NEW YORKER - Richard Brody - 5/26/14

ELENA is an elegiac cinematic essay that is both haunting and unforgettable. THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER - Frank Scheck - 5/29/14

This mesmerizing portrait, flickering on a screen, immortalizes her even as it's anguished. THE VILLAGE VOICE - Alan Scherstuhl - 5/28/14

Shot like a dream, spoken like an elegy, ELENA takes nonfiction where it seldom wants to go. INDIEWIRE - John Anderson - 5/29/14

A haunting visual essay. ELENA interweaves its various fragments like gestures in a modern dance. VARIETY - Peter Debruge - 3/22/13

Costa embraces the poetic and the nonliteral in this heartbreaking account of domestic trauma. SLANT MAGAZINE - Diego Costa - 5/27/14

Rooftop Films Review: Petra Costa’s Documentary ELENA INDIEWIRE/THE PLAYLIST - Katie Walsh - 12/9/13

Exclusive: Trailer For Petra Costa's Lyrical Documentary 'Elena' INDIEWIRE/THE PLAYLIST - Kevin Jagernauth - 5/8/14

Sibling tragedy, nuanced term spark Brazilian filmmaker’s art COLUMBIA DAILY TRIBUNE - Amy Wilder - 4/6/14

Petra, A Woman in Search of Her Own Body ÉPOCA MAGAZINE - Eliane Brum - 5/6/13

Petra Costa conceives of the film as a project that blurs the line between fiction and reality COLUMBIA SPECTATOR - Sally Gao - 3/4/14

ELENA – Rooftop Films Festival ROOFTOP FILMS - Donna K. - 8/19/13

Best New Indie Trailers: ELENA SCREENCRAVE - Laura Frances - 5/14/14

ELENA – Beautiful therapy DUSTY ROAR - Trent Griffiths - 8/8/13

Directors Bet on Their Own Experiences to Make Documentaries CORREIO BRASILIENSE - 6/8/13

Review of Elena FILMKOMMENTAREN - Tue Steen Müller - 5/21/13

Re-imagining the Documentary VUE WEEKLY - Josef Braun - 5/8/13

I Want to See Petra Smiling ESTADÃO NEWSPAPER - Marcelo Rubens Paiva - 5/8/13

The Extreme Act Michel Laub - Folha de S. Paulo - 5/5/13

A Parallel Between Elena and Sylvia Plath Barbara Lopes, writer for the feminist blog 'Blogueiras Feministas', relates Brazilian actress Elena to American writer and poet Sylvia Plath - 4/30/13

IONCINEMA calls ELENA a “loving poem” furiously celebrates, supports and promotes U.S. independent and documentary film and foreign cinema ELENA is "beautifully poetic yet penetratingly raw in its portraiture" - 5/1/13

Hot Docs 2013: “Elena” Projects Poetry on the Screen Ingrid Coifman - DISCOVER BRAZIL - 4/30/13

An essay written by Petra for Harper’s Bazaar Brazil Harper's Bazaar - Petra Costa - 4/28/13

Hot Docs Review: Elena Courtney Small - HotDocs - 4/24/13

Petra talks about ELENA to a Brazilian magazine The director tells the real story that originated the film about her sister in the double-page spread of "Claudia" CLAUDIA MAGAZINE - 4/13/13

“Elena” Gets Deeply Personal In Its Exploration Of Suicide THE UNIVERSITY STAR - Hollie O’Connor - 3/29/13

Women Changing Brazil: Barnard College hosts fifth annual global symposium in São Paulo BWOG - 3/25/13 editor - BWOG.COM - 5/25/13

Elena and Petra’s story Film Threat - Film Threat - 3/14/13

“Heartfelt and genuine” With a reflective stance of how past events and feelings turn into memories, this engaging documentary brings the audience into the heart of Petra’s thoughts and feelings during her journey to discover both her sister as well as herself DOCGEEKS - Nicola Lampard - 11/21/12

The film ELENA and delicateness Época Magazine - Camilo Vanucchi - 10/19/12

One-Pager (PDF)
Press Notes (PDF)
Trailer Download

Interview with Petra Costa conducted by Jordan M. Smith

In this interview ELENA's director Petra Costa gives, you'll find out more about the process of making the film and producing it.Did Petra feel guilty about exposing her mother to all those memories? Was it hard for her to go back to so many old memories and recordings? Why does she use the water metaphor? And why did ELENA take three years to be ready? These are some of the questions the interviewer makes and that make Petra reflect deeply about ELENA.


"A beautiful piece of work; elegant, poetic, visually stunning and viscerally moving. ELENA takes you to a place where you’re reluctant to go as a person. And forces you to face your own demons. A film that made me believe again in the transformative power of cinema and let loose my cynicism about it."

Tim Robbins, The Shawshank Redemption

"ELENA is a rare cinematic experience. This is due to both the depth with which it engages the emotional relationships among the 3 characters and the poetic delicacy of its textures, sounds, and text. It’s like a string that unravels before us and suddenly we’re trapped in a knot with no way out. But time or life itself takes on transforming what was tragedy into memory, undoing the knot and letting life flow again. It’s a film that generates 60 insights a minute."

Fernando Meirelles, City of God

"ELENA is one of the most moving, heartrending cinematic experiences I’ve ever had. Of unusual beauty, it’s a film we keep turning to for a long time. It’s a must see!"

Walter Salles, The Motorcycle Diaries

"The filmmaker sets out for New York in search of her actress sister, who she hasn’t seen since childhood. Memory, loss and yearning mingle dreamily in this striking elegy."


"A haunting visual essay. ELENA interweaves its various fragments like gestures in a modern dance."


"Astounding and lyrical."

Filmmaker Magazine

"ELENA is really a masterpiece in terms of sensibility and communication in the way by which pain can ultimately be transformed by the magic of art into sublimation, compassion and reconciliation."

Harvard Professor Nicolau Sevcenko

"ELENA is such a film. At its core, is the tragic event of a life too early interrupted. Those alive are disrupted. The film puts the pieces back together, to the extent that this is possible, which is to say, imperfectly. There is no naïve belief in closure, in the ability of art to restore the wholeness that existed before the drama. Quite the opposite, I believe. Through the film, what is sought is a way to come to terms with the irreversibility of death, learning to live with what we will miss, always. If there is no neat conclusion, tied with a bow, neither is there prostration, for we’ve got to keep on living– and if possible, once in a while, dancing, as in the last scene. This uplifting realism, this desire to find happiness despite everything, is what lingers and makes a film about death able to affirm life so strongly.

The final impression is that Petra, the director and sister, made and was made by the film, a bit like that image of the hand that draws another hand and is in turn drawn by it. Without the director, Elena would not exist; without ELENA, my impression is that the director would be sadder, her life trapped in unrelenting grief. She would also be spiritually poorer, not having undergone the experience of having made one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in a long time."

João Moreira Salles, Santiago

share your e-motions

After watching ELENA, the Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles (City of God) said: "ELENA is a rare cinematic experience. A film that generates 60 insights a minute."

Insight is an intuition, a revelation, something that emerges as a new and imperative idea. When an insight goes through a creative process, it becomes a work of art. In this page, we will post poems, photos, drawings, videos, songs and all types of insights that the film has generated.

Send your piece or your thoughts to

The Film

ELENA (82 min)


Elena, a young Brazilian woman, moves to New York with the same dream as her mother: to become a movie actress. She leaves behind her childhood spent in hiding during the years of the military dictatorship. She also leaves Petra, her seven-year-old sister. Two decades later, Petra also becomes an actress and heads to New York. At first in search of her destiny, but increasingly, in search of Elena, Petra has only a few clues: home movies, newspaper clippings, a diary and some letters.

Gradually, the features of the two sisters are confused; we no longer know one from the other. When Petra finally finds Elena in an unexpected place, she has to learn to let her go. ELENA is a film about the persistence of those memories, the irreversibility of that loss, and the impact the absence of her sister had on the seven-year-old girl.

From executive producers Tim Robbins and Fernando Meirelles, one of the most successful documentaries of all time in Brazil now comes to America. Intimate in style, ELENA delves into the abyss of one family's drama, revealing at once the inspiration that can be born from tragedy.


• 45th Brasília Festival of Brazilian Cinema: Documentary Category
Best Direction
Best Film Editing
Best Art Direction
Audience Award for Best Film

• Films de Femmes 2013
Best Feature Documentary

• PLANETE+ DOC Film Festival
Canon Cinematography Award: Best Cinematography

• 28th Guadalajara Film Festival
Special Mention

• 9th ZagrebDox Documentary Film Festival
Special Mention

• 7th Cine Música – Conservatória Film Festival
Best Original Score

• 6th Los Angeles Brazilian Film Festival
Best Feature Documentary

• 35th Havana International Film Festival
Best Feature Documentary


Director - Petra Costa
Screenplay - Petra Costa and Carolina Ziskind
Cast - Elena Andrade, Li An and Petra Costa
Production Company - Busca Vida Films
Executive Producers – Tim Robbins and Fernando Meirelles
Associate Producers - Tiago Pavan, Moara Passoni, Sara Dosa, Stefan Davi
Supervising Producers – Julia Bock and Daniela Santos
Producer in New York - Caroline Onikute
Production Coordinator - Vanessa Elias
Producer (Release) - Bernardo Bath
Executive Production Assistant - Isadora Ferreira
Photography - Janice D’avila, Will Etchebehere and Miguel Vassy
Art Directors - Martha Kiss Perrone, Alonso Pafyese and Lorena Ortiz
Film Editing - Marilia Moraes and Tina Baz
First Editing - Idê Lacreta
Additional Editing and Direction Assistant - Virginia Primo
Sound Designer - Olivier Goinard And Guile Martins
Sound Mixer - Olivier Goinard
Sound Recordist - Edson Secco
Soundtrack Supervision - Fil Pinheiro
Original Soundtrack - Vitor Araújo, Fil Pinheiro, Maggie Hastings Clifford and Gustavo Ruiz
Post-Production Coordinator - Laura Futuro
Post-Production Assistant - Fabio De Borthole
Editing Room Assistant - Andre Gustavo Requião
Screenplay Consultant - Daniela Capelato
Screenplay Doctoring - Aleksei Abib
Acting Coach - Martha Kiss Perrone
Editing Consultant - Xavier Box
Translation - Robin Geld
New York Team - Sofia Geld, Patrícia Saltara, Daniel Varotto, Muhammed Hamdy, Kristin McCracken, Mikaela Beardsley


Busca Vida Filmes co-produced the short Olhos de Ressaca (Undertow Eyes) and produced the feature ELENA, both by director Petra Costa. It is currently co-producing the documentaries Lira Paulistana and Vanguarda Paulista by Riba de Castro, and Orestes by Rodrigo Siqueira, and the play Rózà by Martha Kiss Perrone and Joana Levi.


PETRA COSTA: Director, Screenwriter and Producer

Petra Costa is a Brazilian filmmaker and actress. She first directed the short film Undertow Eyes (2009) which screened at the MoMA and was winner of best short film at Rio Film Festival, Cine Las Americas International Film Festival, London International Documentary Festival among others. She then directed the feature ELENA (2012) which premiered at IDFA, followed by SXSW and HotDocs. ELENA won many prizes such as best film at Havana Film Festival (2013), was nominated for Best Cinematography at the 2014 Cinema Eye Honors and was the most watched documentary in Brazil in 2013.

In 2013 Petra was one of the 20 recipients of a grant given by CPH:DOX in Denmark. From this grant Petra and her Danish co-director Lea Glob developed a feature film, currently in postproduction, with the working title Olmo and the Seagull. The film is being produced by Zentropa, Som & Furia and Busca Vida Filmes.

Petra completed her undergraduate studies Summa Cum Laude in Anthropology at Barnard College, Columbia University, New York. She did her Masters in Health, Community and Development at the London School of Economics, London. She has lived in Brazil most of her life.

Undertow Eyes (Short Film)

Vera and Gabriel have been married for 60 years. In Undertow Eyes they wander about their own history: the first flirt, the birth of their children, life and aging. In this remembrance, images from their family collection mingle with images of the present, weaving an emotional and dreamlike universe. A mosaic of stories and impressions, this short film is a personal and existential cinematic diary about love and death.

Screenplay - Petra Costa Directing - Petra Costa Producer - Petra Costa Photography - Eryk Rocha Editing - Ava Rocha Sound Design - Edson Secco

Awards and Festivals // London International Documentary Festival (2011) Best Short Film Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival (2009) Best Short Film 13th Cine Las Americas International Film Festival (2010) Best Short Documentary Film 9th Goiania Short Film Festival Best Film 3rd Itu International Film Festival (2011) Best Screenplay Vitoria Cine Video (2009) Best Editing Gramado Film Festival (2009) Special Jury Prize São Paulo International Film Festival (2009) Audience Award 35mm Curta Cabo-Frio (2010) Best Short Documentary New England Festival of Ibero American Cinema  (2010) Best Short Film Cinequest Film Festival 20 (2010) Official Selection MOMA, Première Brasil, Nova York (2010) Official Selection House of World Cultures, Première Brasil, Berlin (2010) Official Selection


ELENA Movement

No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. By calling
1-800-273-TALK (8255)
you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.

When mental health is not a viable topic for discussion, stigma leads to silence. Without the words to broach the seemingly intractable distortions of depression, isolation, and mental illness — reaching out can feel impossible.

Into this void steps the power of personal narrative, and documentary film. Cinema can be tremendous tool in the effort to visualize, verbalize, and assimilate the traumas of mental illness. That's precisely what ELENA does: create a vocabulary that seeks to articulate the suffering — both the suffering of those afflicted with mental illness, and the loved ones left in suicide's wake, trying to make sense of an incalculable loss. The first step towards change is to tell these stories outloud. Simply put: to speak up about mental health is to extend a lifeline.

ELENA is proud to partner with a number of organizations dedicated to mental health, loss, grief, and healing. Mental illness — which can take hold so suddenly, and thrives in the shadows — meets its match in our partner organizations' treatment resources, tools, and communities of support. In Brazil, the country of its release, ELENA sparked a national dialogue—shattering stigma by letting the light in. Here is the U.S., ELENA is determined to do that same essential work: create meaningful and open dialogue on mental health, share resources, help those suffering find treatment and solutions, and confront the pain of bereavement with compassion and vested community.

Please visit our partner organizations to learn more, find the help you may need, get involved personally, or simply spread the word and champion their work.


Dedicated to raising mental health awareness among college students, on the peer level.
An independent, unbiased voice for women’s healthcare.
BrazilFoundation is a non-profit established in 2000 with the goal of generating resources for social entrepreneurs who propose creative and innovative solutions to challenges faced by communities throughout Brazil.
Founded in 1964, the MHA-NYC has led the way in mental health services, advocacy, and education in the New York metropolitan area and across the nation.
A collection of portraits and stories of suicide attempt survivors, as told by those survivors.
Healing Traumatic Stress and Raising Performance in At-risk Populations.
An online resource celebrating the connection between art and healing.
Provides support, education, and advocacy for families and individuals of all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds who live with mental illness.
Serves young people in any type of crisis, providing them access to free, 24/7, emotional support and information they need via the medium they already use and trust: text.
Families for Depression Awareness helps families recognize and cope with depression and bipolar disorder to get people well and prevent suicides. Visit for information about helping someone with depression or bipolar disorder, finding and maintaining wellness, and coping with the loss of a loved one.
The mission of ACH is to meet bereaved children and families wherever they are in their grief and fulfill their needs in a caring and knowledgeable environment through services to help them with their emotional journey and financial assistance to aid their future education.
Operates psychiatric centers across the State, and also regulates, certifies and oversees more than 4,500 programs, which are operated by local governments and nonprofit agencies. These programs include various inpatient and outpatient programs, emergency, community support, residential and family care programs.
The mission of Samaritans Public Education, Training and Awareness Program is to provide lay and professional caregivers and health providers with the skills, tools, information, resources and awareness they need to increase their comfort, confidence and competency in effectively identifying, responding to, caring for and treating those individuals who are in distress, depressed, in crisis or suicidal.



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