An aerial view shows extensive lush vegetation, interrupted by circular roofs: it is the “yano”, the communal house, of the shaman Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, protagonist of “The Last Forest”, a poetic documentary that exalts the resistance of these indigenous people threatened by mining illegal in Brazil.
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Its director, Luiz Bolognesi, returns with this film to the Panorama section of the Berlinale, three years after receiving a special mention from the jury for “Ex-Pajé”, who denounced the maneuvers of the evangelical church to discredit the shamans in Brazil.
But for “The Last Forest”, Bolognesi (São Paulo, 1966) proposed to put aside the defeatist discourse and chose a combative indigenous leader, Davi Kopenawa, one of the most recognized in the world, awarded in 2019 with the Right Livelihood Award, the “Nobel alternative”.
In accepting his proposal for the filming, Kopenawa was clear: “I don’t want to make a film about victims, we are a very strong people, very beautiful and very healthy,” he said, as the filmmaker explained by video conference to AFP.
The chief, also a co-writer, watches over the safety of the 120 Indians who live in his yano in the Amazon, chasing away small groups of illegal miners, but also that of all the Yanomami, by whom he speaks at Harvard University at the end of the film.
The Yanomami land in Brazil, on the border with Venezuela, is home to around 27,000 members of that community and constitutes the largest indigenous reserve in the country.
“Worse” than in the 1980s
Filmed in mid-2019, the documentary blames the government of Jair Bolsonaro for the invasion of some 20,000 illegal gold miners, accused of destroying forests and polluting rivers with mercury. This situation is reminiscent of the 1980s – when the discovery of gold deposits took 45,000 gold miners to the region – but “for the worse”, according to Bolognesi.
At that time there was “a very large mobilization and the Brazilian government was obliged to take measures”, that is, to officially recognize the Yanomami lands and send the Armed Forces to expel the miners, he explains.
Now “we do not see the same mobilization, perhaps the world is distracted by the pandemic and other issues”, laments the director, trusting that the situation will change, especially now that the Yanomami are also exposed to the covid-19, which would have already caused several deaths among its members, including children.
Bolsonaro questions the extent of the Yanomami lands and defends the economic exploitation of preserved areas.
But “The Last Forest” is not limited to exposing this and other problems of the Yanomami – the departure of young people attracted by capitalism, the lack of food … – but it reflects their life in community, their custom of sharing myths, food and tasks , and enjoy natural treasures. Bolognesi takes care of the natural light, the sound of the river and the wind and allows intense colors to sprout, such as those of the long orange feathers that the Yanomami wear on their arms or the petals that women wear as earrings.
Brazil is usually well represented at the Berlin Film Festival. This year, however, “The Last Forest” will be the only film in the country selected from its main sections in this pandemic year, which required a virtual program of just five days. However, organizers hope to hold a second part open to the public in June.
Despite the circumstances, Bolognesi continues to rely on the power of cinema and festivals. The films “do not solve problems, but they awaken consciences”, he says. And the fact that he was selected at the Berlinale is already starting to open doors for him in countries like the United States, Canada, Israel and South Africa, which showed interest in his documentary produced by Gullane, he says.