Even though Bruno Barreto is one of Brazil's most celebrated film-makers, he had trouble finding finance to complete his latest film, Last Stop 174, a well-received drama which had its world premiere at Toronto and two weeks later opened the Rio International Film Festival.

The irony was not lost on Barreto that the Rio screening was in a packed house at the city's grand Odeon Petrobras theatre, since Petrobras - the Brazilian oil giant which is a staple of local film investment - turned Barreto down three times. So did Bndes, the federal bank which also has a large film investment programme. "They said the screenplay wasn't good enough," says Barreto, who was saved at the 11th hour when private banker Pedro Conde Filho read about the film's woes in a newspaper and agreed to stump up 25% of the $4m budget, essentially enabling it to go into production.

Maybe the commissioners at Petrobras and Bndes felt Barreto did not need local funding since his 18 films and experience in the US with titles such as One Tough Cop and View From The Top have given him an international standing. Indeed, his initial funding for the project came from France courtesy of high-profile producer Antoine de Clermont Tonnerre who brought in Canal Plus ("They liked the script," Barreto laughs) and local distributor Ocean Films at Cannes in 2005. Los Angeles-based Myriad Pictures came on board as sales agent and Paramount took local distribution rights.

But Last Stop 174 was never a slamdunk commercial proposition, since Barreto wanted to craft an authentic drama about the violence of poverty in Rio with a no-name cast.

"I had seen Jose Padilha's documentary Bus 174 (about the hijack of a bus in June 2000 in Rio which was broadcast live for six hours) and was riveted, but had a lot of questions that were unanswered," Barreto explains. "I wanted to dive into it and dig further."

Barreto discovered the hijacker had been adopted and this provided the springboard for him and screenwriter Braulio Mantovani (City Of God) to create a semi-fictional story about two orphaned boys whose fates are intertwined as they grow up. "I wanted to do a Dickensian story in the streets of Rio," he says. "I wasn't nervous about adding fictional elements. I wanted to show the incident in a different way."

Working with two actors (Michel Gomes and Marcello Melo Jr) whose only prior experience was in community theatre, Barreto shot on the streets of the city last summer. "I felt as if I was doing my first film," he says. "Experience can make you rigid. Now I had command of my craft, I wanted to say 'Fuck it' and take some risks."