Children of the Amazon: a new documentary

October 21, 2008

childrenoftheamazon

Children of the Amazon is an exquisite film, and a very personal look at a vital issue.

Clips on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/ZDFilms

Filmmaker Denise Zmekhol of Brazil recently returned to the Amazon to find some of the indigenous people whom she had met and photographed there almost 20 years before.  She documents how their lives had been altered by the construction of roads and clearcutting of the forest to make way for cattle, logging and mining, and how they gradually acquired the awareness and the organization to have a voice in these changes.

Those 15 years between her two visits are a critical time span.  Several of the tribe members she interviews refer to “tempo de floresta,” forest time, before all the changes came.  The children of the amazon whom she photographed, within their lifetime, have witnessed the destruction of their land and their way of life. As she shows them the photos she had taken of them, it turns out they had never seen photographs of themselves as children.

It’s a very personal and inspiring film: it translates the movements of peoples and continents to the scale of an individual, a family, a village.  It doesn’t sentimentalize, but it’s hard not to be affected by the story of Chico Mendes, who had organized and represented the rubber tappers in that region.

Though not indigenous, the rubber tappers depended on the Amazon forest for their livelihood, so ultimately they joined forces with the native peoples to resist the ranchers and other forces of development.  Zmekhol remembers her conversations with Chico over the years, interweaving photographs and video footage with recent interviews she conducted with his surviving family and friends.

Chico was assassinated in the intervening years, along with several other leaders of the movement to resist deforestation.  One of the young girls whom Zmekhol had photographed and hoped to meet up with again had also been killed.  She drank some poisoned juice that had been intended for her father, a chief of the Surui tribe.

Watching this movie,  I found myself wondering about all the all the indigenous peoples throughout history whose lands and lives gave way to invasion, genocide and other forms of progress, from the Aztecs and Native Americans all the way back to the Ancient Hebrews, Gauls and Celts under the Roman Empire. It’s a pattern as old and as inevitable as the progress of time.  Two thousand years ago Virgil’s Aeneid told the story of Turnus, a mythological prince who resisted the first Roman invaders.  Virgil ascribed to Turnus the noble yet misguided heroism of a man devoted to a lost cause.

I find myself thinking, or hoping, that this story might yet turn out differently than all those others,  that the children of the Amazon might actually stand a chance — because their land and way of life is as important to our survival as it is to theirs.  The film is not a polemic, and does not preach.  But biodiversity — and the role of indigenous peoples in preserving it — has gradually been recognized as essential to the continuity of human life.

Consider this : the amazon forest is home to one third of all plant and animal species on the planet, and source of about 20% of the world’s supply of oxygen.

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