Cristiano Guerreiro is a man with an extraordinary mix of traditional ideals and wide-ranging alternative beliefs. Born in Faro but brought up in Albufeira, Cristiano is the second son of parents originally from the Alentejo.

WORDS Helen Daniel

Cristiano is multi-talented. A qualified massage therapist with knowledge of holistic therapies, he is also a first responder for the Portuguese Red Cross.

This department is responsible for efficiently providing health care to people in emergencies. He is an ambulance man who is one of the first people at the scene of an accident or any urgent situation where medical help is needed.

First and foremost, though, Cristiano is a filmmaker. In 2019, he established Canal Independente and runs a freelance video service, Guerreiro Video Production. Filmmaking is his passion and driving force. “Although always polite, I was a bit of a rebellious kid and an oddity at school,” Cristiano recounts. “Obsessed with watching films throughout my childhood, I dreamt of becoming an actor, but when I was 12, I started thinking it would be cool to be behind a camera.”

Struggling with depression at 18, Cristiano’s brother encouraged him to study filmmaking at the University of Beira Interior. He loved this experience, and as soon as he had gained his degree, he flew to London, England.

Juggling jobs whilst pursuing his filmmaking career and moving from one home to another for four years, Cristiano forged a life in London. He often burned the candle at both ends, working during the day and filming at night. Once on the underground, he overheard someone saying something that stayed in his mind. “London is a great place to build portfolios, but not a place to stay forever.”

“I undoubtedly did work on my portfolio whilst there, filming for Jaguar and Rolls Royce and capturing many weddings and music videos. I shot a documentary for Channel Four about Brazilian heritage in London and another about homelessness.”

In 2015 Cristiano, always ambitious and focused, decided to take his film career seriously in Portugal. He returned home, invested in modern equipment and found new clients.

“I want to make a difference in this world,” he explains. “I have a compulsion to film controversial issues that will impact the viewers and create positive change; thus, I am drawn to the work of activists. I participated in and filmed the anti-fracking demonstrations in 2018, protests against bullfighting, and demolishing buildings on Faro island. Most activists do not have funding, so I often donate my work to their causes.”

Cristiano soon realised that his bills were not getting paid this way, so he had to choose meaningful work that would yield a wage! He decided to become a first responder.

“Our training, Tripulante de Ambulância de Socorro, is intense and thorough,” explains Cristiano. “We are taught to make on-the-spot decisions, determine whether injuries are critical or not, and act accordingly. When there is a road traffic accident, three teams have to work in conjunction with each other. The GNR controls the traffic and ensures it is safe for the ambulances to get to the scene. The Bombeiros are in charge of the vehicles and are responsible for cutting victims out of them, and the ambulance team look after the people’s health.”

At first, Cristiano was not happy with the work. He found he got too involved emotionally with the patients and was amazed at how detached his colleagues could be. Gradually though, he too has acquired an ability to protect himself from the often shocking scenes he witnesses.

“Among other things, we deal with road traffic accidents, suicides, and overdose victims. It is tense work; we never know what is in front of us when we start a shift. The summer is hectic, and it’s disturbing how much overconsumption of alcohol and drugs there is, resulting in countless fights. Also very worrying is the number of unconscious young victims who have been involuntarily spiked with drugs or alcohol.”

The life of a first responder is physically and mentally demanding. “Constantly lifting people means that our backs become damaged. We carry people on stretchers from top-floor apartment blocks and sometimes from cliff edges,” Cristiano remarks. “Occasionally, people die when we get to the scenes of accidents despite us doing our best to save them. We live with the threat of being sued, and there is no board of legal advisors behind us to protect our rights. Being sued can ruin our lives.”

First responders work long hours and are on a meagre wage. The country does not have enough ambulances, which can sometimes cause disastrous problems.

“As charming as Portugal seems, there is a darker side to life here that we witness directly as first responders. My work sometimes involves transporting victims of human trafficking and domestic abuse to safe places.” Stable-minded and calm, Cristiano aims to become a counsellor to these victims. Despite the many setbacks and difficulties, Cristiano loves his work and finds it extremely rewarding.

“There are many happy moments..saving someone’s life is awesome!” he exclaims. “I am pleased I chose this career to fund my filmmaking passion.”

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