An Amazon tribe walks behind the camera in Nat Geo’s film “The Territory”

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Los Angeles (AFP) – When Covid-19 reached the Brazilian Amazon and an indigenous tribe sealed off its borders, director Alex Pritz found an innovative way to end his documentary – he handed the cameras over to the Uru-eu-wau-wau them- same.

“The Territory,” to be published by National Geographic on Friday, follows the fate of some 200 hunter-gatherers who live in a protected area of ​​rainforest, surrounded and overrun by aggressive and illegal settlers, farmers and loggers.

While shown in the film dressed in traditional clothing and honoring ancient customs, the Uru-eu-wau-wau and their young chief Bitate – the main subject of the film – were more than happy to use modern technology to retaliate.

“When Covid arrived, Bitate took the really bold step of saying, ‘Okay, no more journalists coming to our territory, no more filmmakers, no more Alex, no more documentary crew, nobody,'” said said Pritz.

“We had to have a conversation with him like, ‘Okay, have we finished the movie? Do we have everything we need? Is there more? Should we start editing?’

“Bitate was very clear: ‘No, we’re not done. We still have a lot to do. You weren’t done before, why should you be done now?

“‘Just send us better cameras, send us audio, and we’ll shoot and produce the final part of the film.'”

The result was a “co-production model” in which an Uru-eu-wau-wau filmmaker is credited as cinematographer, and the community more largely acted as producers with a share of the profits and a word. say in commercial decisions regarding the distribution of the film.

In addition to allowing filming to continue during the pandemic, Pritz believes the decision to provide equipment and training directly to the Uru-eu-wau-wau benefited the film by adding a “première perspective hand” on group activities, which include field patrols to arrest intruders.

“I’ve shot a bunch of surveillance assignments myself. None of them made it!” said Pritz.

“Not because we wanted to transfer the cinema… it was more raw, it was more urgent.”

“Digital Children”

Even before Pritz’s crew arrived, the Uru-eu-wau-wau had become adept at using the power of modern technology and media to champion their cause, positioning themselves on the world stage as guardians of a forest whose survival is linked to issues of climate change and biodiversity.

“Bitate and this younger generation within the Uru-eu-wau-wau are digital children. He was born in the late 90s. He’s on Instagram. And that’s part of how he engages around the world,” Pritz said.

When drones capturing stunning and heartbreaking footage of vast deforestation appear early in the documentary, many audiences assume they belong to the filmmakers, Pritz said.

But in fact, the flying cameras have been purchased and are operated by the Uru-eu-wau-wau themselves.

“Whereas it would have taken four days to walk over a mountain range of thick, dense, ancient rainforest…with the drone you’re there in 30 minutes, you have images tagged with metadata,” said Pritz.

“People can’t argue with that.”

It’s a stark contrast to the farmers and settlers, who are also central subjects of the film.

In stunning footage, the documentary follows a group as they brazenly log and set fire to a protected forest, illegally clearing space for roads to territory they wish to one day settle and claim as their own.

Access was possible because many settlers consider themselves heroic pioneers, speaking in Pritz interviews about opening up the rainforest for the good of their nation – a heady mix of cowboy culture “Wild West” borrowed from American films and nationalist propaganda fueled by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

“The settlers were these naive people who had no understanding of the historical context of their actions, of the ecological consequences, of what they were doing for the rest of the planet,” Pritz said.

For the settlers, many of whom lack education or other economic opportunities, “it was all about ‘me and my people’, ‘just this little patch’, ‘if only I can get it'”.

“While Bitate has this expansive vision. He thinks about climate change. He thinks about the planet. He’s politically savvy, media-oriented.”

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