Long-time editor Paulo Sacramento makes his fictional feature debut with Riocorrente, a timely and tense contemporary tale set in Sao Paulo.

Riocorrente is the story of four people – a woman, Renata, torn between an art critic and a former car thief, and a street kid – but really it’s the portrait of a city, and a nation, on the edge.

His editing skills are used to perfection in building the tension of Riocorrente. “I love editing,” he says. “I can learn a lot about making films through editing. You have a lot of time to see what works and what doesn’t work.”

Sacramento first wrote this script 9 or 10 years ago, after he had directed a feature documentary about prisoners, but then decided “At the time I didn’t want to direct. I had to think more about it….then I was producing and editing and suddenly I realized it was the time for me to go back to direct.”

He collaborated on the script with other writers, but they kept pushing it to be more traditionally narrative, so he ended up going back to his original ideas. “I liked it with the points and edges, that makes the film stronger, and more poetic.”

This film marks Sacramento’s first experience of working with actors (his previous shorts were with non-professionals), and it’s a process he relished. He spent several months with his lead cast hanging out, going over script ideas, and spending time in the gritty locations where the film is set (and was shot). Lee Taylor, who plays former car thief Carlo, is someone the director calls “one of the most talented actors of the new generation of Sao Paulo’s theatre scene.”

The sense of urgency in the film is palpable, through the striking visuals but also the dialogue. “When the characters speak, there is a discord…one person is always trying to change the other person. I see these things all day in Sao Paulo and Rio…People are unsatisfied. But they don’t know what they are looking for.”

The protests on the streets of Brazil aren’t directly represented, but that mood certainly carries through, in something like the film’s powerful motif of fire. “You can’t ignore a fire. You have to manage the fire, you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist,” Sacramento adds.

He has an incendiary script ready for his next film, The Eye & The Knife, about a group of friends working on an oil rig whose relationships implode after an accident. He hopes to shoot that feature, on a bigger scale than Riocorrente, later this year or in early 2015.

Riocorrente’s public screenings in Rotterdam continue through Feb 1.