The Territory – Film Review
by Frank L.
Director – Alex Pritz
Stars – Neidinha Bandeira, Bitaté Uru Eu Wau Wau
The Amazon rainforest was a vast expanse of land untouched by human activity until comparatively recently. Its exploitation and substantial destruction by commercial farming interests has been continuous. The process has seen the obliteration of many indigenous tribes to whom the forest was part of their integrated way of life. One of those tribes is still in existence – just. It is the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau who were undiscovered until the 1980s when their members numbered in thousands but nowadays they number a minuscule 200 or so. Their land is protected from encroachment in theory but the President of Brazil and his supporters are not overly concerned about the rights of these indigenous people. Their land is a frontier which has the potential to be exploited for farming by new frontiersmen who are so celebrated in America which lies to the north. These contemporary frontiersmen are not concerned about the destruction of the rainforest or the indigenous people who live there. They have an insatiable desire to own their own piece of land and work it. From their perspective, the indigenous people occupy the land but do not work it. Behind the frontiersmen lie the large commercial enterprises who will work the land far more intensively than any frontiersman.
It is into this very human story that Alex Pritz treads. He shows how the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau, led by their young 20-year-old leader Bitate, resisted this illegal encroachment utilising their native combat skills but also the power of the modern camera to record unlawful incursions onto their land. Pritz also identifies a hard-working labourer who has created an association in order to obtain a portion of virgin forested land so its members can work the land to provide them with a better living. While his ambition is understandable it does not take into account the environmental destruction which he wants to create. Even more worrying is a labourer who is young and prepared to take action. He will not wait. He chainsaws trees and sets fire to vegetation in order to stake his claim to the land to which he is not entitled. The inherent obsession to possess and work land has strong roots. Trying to work against this obsession Spritz also shows a remarkable woman Neidinha who understands the damaging effects of changing the usage of this land. She and has fought for many years to protect the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau against the multiple forces that are ranged against them not least President Bolsonaro and his supporters.
Into this grim conflict, Pritz captures these complex themes with stunning photography. The small insect life of the forest is juxtaposed with the mechanical roar of a chainsaw and the crackling destruction of fire taking hold of vegetation. The odds appear to be stacked against the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau. This documentary illustrates the challenges that climate change has created and shows that a small indigenous tribe living in the Amazon forest has a far better understanding of the stakes involved than the so-called civilising peoples from outside. This is a very fine documentary.