January 5, 2023 – The war to save the so-called “lungs of the world,” the Amazon rain forest, seems a bit abstract from afar, with the massive rain forest shriveling from a thousand tiny cuts over a long period of time. This National Geographic documentary brings the war up close and personal.
The movie opens with a satellite view of the rain forest as it used to be a few years ago, which rapidly diminishes under the assault of slash and burn clearings by farmers and other settlers. One undisturbed area stands out — the land of the Uru-eu-wau-wau tribe. But even these tribal lands are being illegally invaded by farmers tacitly supported by wealthy interests and a Brazilian government led by the corrupt administration of Jair Bolsonaro.
Opposing these powerful interests are a few tribal members (whose numbers have diminished by disease from thousands to less than 200) a few independent journalists and crusading activists led by Neidinha Bandeira, who lives under constant death threats. The tribal leaders, led by 18-year-old Bitaté and 33-year-old patrol leader Ari, are acutely aware of the importance of the Amazon rain forest to themselves, and to the whole planet.
The film isn't just about those trying to protect the rain forest, however. It is also about those trying to destroy it with chain saws and fire. These people, some of whom are interviewed for the movie, are mostly small scale farmers. Some are laborers who have never owned their own land. They hope to carve out a piece of the jungle for themselves. One group of settlers, however is more ambitious, mapping out a swath of tribal lands for up to 1,000 families. They call their proposed development Rio Bonito.
According to activist Neidinha Bandeira, many of these poor farmers are being backed by wealthy landowners, who will move in and take over once the land has been cleared and settled. The Bolsonaro government has systematically stripped away resources and authority from government agencies responsible for the protection of indigenous people. Bandeira said she is no longer able to appeal to local police to stop the invasion of Uru-eu-wau-wau lands or threats to its people.
Patrol leader Ari of the Uru-eu-wau-wau is murdered. Other members of the tribe want revenge, but tribal leader Bitaté warns them that if they kill one white person, the revenge for that will be total, and their entire tribe will be wiped out.
Bitaté and others use drones supplied by activists to locate and document those who are encroaching upon their lands. They make extensive patrols, armed with cameras, arrows and machetes, arresting trespassers and documenting illegal settlements with GPS coordinates. It seems ironic that ancient Amazon tribes are using cutting edge technology to protect their lands and themselves, but that is what is shown in this movie.
Another scene in the movie follows Bandeira as she races to find her daughter, after receiving a phone call from people who say they have kidnapped her. Bandeira has received so many death threats, that she has erected tall walls all the way around her house. Though she is hated by land developers and pro-Bolsonaro forces, she is beloved by the Uru-eu-wau-wau people.
With Covid 19 further reducing the scarce population of the Uru-eu-wau-wau the outlook seems grim, but after the completion of this film, Bolsonaro, in a big upset, was narrowly defeated by former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula for short) in the runoff of the 2022 Brazilian Presidential Election.
Lula's election raises some hope for the Uru-eu-wau-wau and the Amazon rain forest. Lula, who took office on January 1, 2023, campaigned on environmentally friendly policies. In the past, Lula's administration and policies have led to substantial decreases in deforestation.
This movie, directed by Alex Pritz, effectively shows both the efforts of those to save the rain forests, and those who are trying to carve out farms from the rain forest by cutting and burning the land. Both sides have their dreams. It rates a B+.
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