Documentaries about the Amazon are plentiful; many provide accessible and accurate portraits of the social and environmental issues affecting the region.
Here are some of ISA's recommended documentaries in English (and a few in Portuguese). Find them in your video store or on eBay, or contact distrubutors Bullfrog Films or Television Trust for the Environment.
First and foremost, look out for The Decade of Destruction, a series of outstanding films by prize-winning director Adrian Cowell who spent the 1980s filming non-stop across the Amazon. Four films were broadcast in 1989:
* In the Ashes of the Forest, Parts I and II tells the saga of two colonists settled by the government on the lands of the then-uncontacted Uru Eu Wau Wau indians in Rondonia. The seven year-old son of one of them is kidnapped by the Uru Eu Wau Wau and the film traces the fate of the colonists, the indians and the forest over the course of the decade.
* Killing for Land follows some of the millions of poor farmers have migrated to the Amazon as squatters and the violence that erupts when they begin to work the land and the landowners hire gunmen to frighten them off.
* Mountains of Gold follows freelance prospectors or garimpeiros who pan and dredge gold all over the forest on land licensed by the government to large mining companies.
During the course of filming, Cowell worked closely with the trade unionist and rubber-tapper leader Chico Mendes. Following Chico's murder in December 1988, Cowell produced The Killing of Chico Mendes telling the story of his struggle to organize traditional forest communities to protect their lands.
A condensed version of the "Decade of Destruction" was distributed as Banking on Disaster.
In 1999 Cowell's three-part series The Last of the Hding Tribes was released. "At the beginning of this millennium, most of the human race consisted of tribes of hunters and nomads. At its close, there are only a handful of uncontacted tribes left - a poignant reminder of how rich and varied our species once was, and how that diversity is being steadily eroded by the onslaught of new communications technologies relentlessly transforming us all into a 'social monoculture'". Cowell goes back to the Amazon to trace the history of three tribes on the edge of extinction:
* Return from Extinction tells the remarkable story of the return of the Panará indians to their ancestral forest home
* The Fate of the Kidnapper concludes the story of the Uru Eu Wau Wau and the onset of disease and deforestation which will end the group's way of life for ever
* Fragments of a People chronicles the frantic efforts to find the missing Ava-Canoeiro indians before their ancestral lands are drowned by a massive hydro-electric dam.
In 2002 The Fires of the Amazon revisits the Amazon on the eve of the Lula government taking office.
Finally, the 2005 documentary The Jungle Beat examines the struggle by the federal environment agency Ibama to combat illegal logging. A background article to the programme by Adrian Cowell can be seen on the BBC This World site.
Television Trust for the Environment
Earth Report is TVE's weekly flagship programme on environmental affairs, broadcast on BBC World. Over the years a number of programmes have focused on the Amazon, including:
* Chico's Legacy (Earth Report II, 1998): Ten years after the assassination of Chico Mendes, the film looks at the legacy he left and examines how the plight of the forest and the people he defended, has changed.
* Fate of the Dammed (Earth Report V, 2001) investigates the effects that construction of one of the world's largest hydro-electric projects, the Tucurui Dam on the Tocantins river, has had on the region.
* Chico's Dream (Earth Report VII, 2003) takes a look at which side is winning out in the battle to use, or save, the rainforests of Brazil.
* Soaking it Up? investigates the role of the Amazon rainforest as a 'sink' for carbon dioxide.
* The second programme in the Crossing the Divide series (Earth Report VIII, 2004) on green campaigners who made the leap from environmental activism to mainstream politics interviews senator and former environment minister Marina Silva.
* Drawing the Line (Earth Report X, 2006) looks at the workings of the national protected areas system in the Amazon.
TVE also produced the prize-winning 1988 documentary Jungle Pharmacy explaining the race against time to preserve the medicinal knowledge of Amazonian Indians.
DVD copies of films from TVE's catalogue may be ordered online.
Granada Television's Disappearing World series was a classic ethnographic documentary series. Two programmes were made in the Brazilian Amazon:
* The Kayapó: Out of the Forest (Michael Beckham, 1989) portrays the 1989 meeting in Altamira where the Kayapó indians rallied other Brazilian Indians to protest against a massive hydro-electric dam that will flood large parts of the Xingu valley
* The Mehinacu (Carlos Pasini, 1974) shows how the Mehinacu, a small indigenous group in the Xingu region, sustains its group harmony through rituals that play out the tensions between the sexes.
* The Shaman's Apprentice (Miranda Smith, 2001). "For more than twenty years Mark Plotkin has searched the Amazon for plants that heal. He is an ethnobotanist, a scientist who studies the relationship between indigenous people and plants. Inspired by the great explorer Richard Evans Schultes, Mark set out from Harvard on a mission to find a new treatment for diabetes, the disease that killed his two grandmothers. What Mark has found in those green and tangled forests has been more complex, more interesting than mere medicine. The Shaman’s Apprentice charts the story of Mark’s discoveries in his own words, and looks with fresh eyes at the astonishing ability of native people to manage their environment".
* Voice of the Amazon (Miranda Smith, 1989). A documentary about the life and times of Chico Mendes.
* Four films by Geoffrey O'Connor:
Amazon Journal (1995): Going beyond the strict documentation of social and political events, O'Connor's Amazon Journal offers a critical, first person analysis of the complex web of misunderstanding that has distanced semi-isolated indigenous societies and Western European populations for centuries.
At the Edge of Conquest: the journey of Chief Wai Wai (1992) looks at the plight of the Waiapi indians, a small, isolated tribe that came into contact with the outside world in the late 1970's. Threatened by invading gold miners and a Brazilian Government proposal to reduce their land, this documentary focuses on the indigenous leader, Chief Wai-Wai and his inventive, daring response to outside incursions.
Contact: the Yanomami Indians of Brazil (1991) shot in one of the most remote corners of the Brazilian Amazon, graphically depicts the devastating impact on the Yanomami of contact with the outside world.
Defying Death in Brazil: The Story of Father Ricardo Rezende (1994) a portrait of one of the unsung heroes of the Brazilian Amazon, Father Ricardo Rezende, whose work defending the poor has so enraged cattle ranchers in the region that there have been several attempts against his life over the past couple of decades.
* Histórias do Rio Negro (Luciano Cury, 2006). In July 2005 the physician and writer Draúzio Varella journeyed 1,100 kilometres down the Rio Negro from São Gabriel da Cachoeira to Manaus recording the stories of people living along the river: stories of prospecting, dolphins, midwives, mythical forest creatures, Salesian missions, and rubber. At the heart of the film are the men and women who live on the Rio Negro, their myths and beliefs.
* Os Carvoeiros (Nigle Noble, 1999 aka The Charcoal People). A beautiful film about the production of charcoal in Brazil, explaining the economic and political pressures affecting charcoal production in Brazil, as well as the effects of the activity on the environment - particularly the Amazon forest.