Brazilian film-maker Cao Hamburger first began to think about The Year My Parents Went On Vacation, which just played in Competition at Berlin, while living in London in 2001.

"All the cab drivers I spoke to knew by heart the Brazilian soccer team that won the World Cup in 1970," says the director, who was eight years old when Brazil took home the trophy for the third time. These conversations brought back memories of what it was like for Hamburger growing up in 1970s Sao Paulo, and he remembered an unexplained vacation his parents had taken at that time, leaving him behind.

"Only when I grew up did I find out my parents had been persecuted by the military dictatorship of the period."

The son of a German professor, Hamburger revisits his own childhood through Mauro (Michel Joelsas), the protagonist of The Year My Parents Went On Vacation. The boy is left with his grandfather in a Jewish/Italian neighbourhood in 1970, a year when World Cup success overshadowed the torture, jailing and murder of political prisoners which took place in Brazil at that time.

But the old man dies of a heart attack, forcing Mauro to rely on the kindness of strangers in his apartment building while he waits for his parents, who have promised to return in time to watch the World Cup with him.

This is Hamburger's second feature film - after Castelo Ra-Tim-Bum, O Filme (1999), based on the successful children's TV series which he also created. For TV, he directed Filhos Do Carnaval (2006), which was Emmy nominated, and episodes of the series City Of Men in 2004.

His experience working with children came in handy on The Year My Parents Went On Vacation, and he has coaxed a touching performance from 12-year-old Joelsas, who had never acted before and was one of 1,200 children who auditioned.

"Finding the right kid was pivotal," says the director. "The film only works if audiences are moved by how this child is forced to survive at such an early age."

Budgeted at $3.5m, the movie was financed thanks to Brazil's Audiovisual Law and produced by Gullane Filmes, Caos Producoes Cinematograficas, Globo Filmes and Miravista, Disney's Latin American label.

The deal with Miravista automatically guaranteed distribution in Latin America through Buena Vista International. But so far the film has just been released in Brazil, where it has seen 350,000 admissions. International sales are being handled by Films Distribution.

"The soccer appeal will probably be a bonus for the film in the international market, especially in countries where the sport is popular," says Hamburger.