“THE TERRITORY,” exploring the essence of land and belonging in the Amazon

As the opening of director Alex Pritz’s interesting new documentary “The Territory,” informs us, the Uru-eu-wau-wau people of Brazil were discovered by the country’s government in the eighties.

The area of Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau occupation went from the valleys of the Madeira (to the north), Machado (to the east), Guaporé (to the south) rivers and on to the Mamoré (to the west), according to available historical records and the oral reports of the Indians. Since the beginning of the twentieth century the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau have struggled against the fronts of expansion.

Three decades later the tribes have embraced modernity, they can use cellphones, wear modern clothing (including jerseys of popular sports teams), use drones to watch over the borders of their reservation  and closely follow their 2018 presidential election; a political race that threatens to endanger their way of life with the introduction of a dangerously far-right candidate, Jair Bolsonaro.

Pritz’s debut is an important and timely film about this group of indigenous people and their constant fight against the deforestation of the Amazon, their home.

Over the course of three years the director and his crew captured the daily travails of the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau. They are now a small tribe (fewer than 200) but they keep alive the ways of their ancestors and will fight against any desecration of the purity of the land.

It is heartbreaking to see the people of this land helplessly witness its gradual destruction by those who come with the modern technologies and destroy their homelands within days.

Bitaté, a twenty-year-old member of the tribe is one of the prime subjects in the film. The young man understands the importance the land and how his people’s struggle affects all of our futures. Through Bitaté, the film brings home the importance of the Amazon’s place in the life of our planet entire.

It is the most biodiverse region on Earth, providing shelter to over three million species of plants and animals. Billions of trees absorb tons of carbon dioxide every year and slow down the climate change along with producing 20% of earth’s oxygen, hence the Amazon being named “Lungs of Earth.”

Pritz uses time-lapse footage to eerie effect, showing a once-flourishing patch of the Amazon valley becoming unhealthy and not so slowly dying due to the farmlands and developed areas spreading year after year.

This is a film that is consistently interesting and, at times, particularly moving.

Any good documentary has an agenda and its own personal viewpoint. Here, the director rightly takes the side of the Uru-eu-wau-wau people and their fight to save the land that remains to them, but he also gives time and voice to those on the other side of the dispute.

We meet many of the farmers who led the movement that brought the dictator-esque Bolsonaro to power.

These men care only to expand prime grazing land by deforestation of the Amazon, caring nothing for the reservations that were legally given to the indigenous peoples when their land was recognized by the government in 1991.

Bolsonaro’s reign twists the meaning of some of these laws, assuring the theft and destruction of the native lands. The farmers are prejudiced towards the Uru-eu-wau-wau and justify their sins by claiming the tribe aren’t doing anything with the land, ergo seeing no crime and feeling vindicated.

The film argues the chilling ramifications from this dangerous kind of rationalization will be the destruction of us all.

To give hope to this never-ending battle, Pritz also introduces Brazilian activist Neidinha, who plays a big part in the ongoing resistance to these nationalists with only dollar signs in their eyes. Along with the determination of Bitaté and his people, the film finds its hope for a greener future.

“The Territory”, is a message film that shouldn’t have to be made. Many people (read, European influence on political parties around the globe) have never had much of an eye for the future. The green most politicians see is money and there is great ignorance regarding the realities of climate change that is spreading like wildfire.

The Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau breathe and bleed the life of their home. The preservation of their lands is not only important to the future of their tribe but is essential to us all.

As many Indigenous Peoples believe, all life is connected, from humans and animals to plants and trees, to water and sky.

The Earth is our mother, and we are all her children. She provides what we need to survive. Of the many important messages held within this film, that we (as brothers and sisters) must tend to her wellbeing or all perish, is the one that must stay with us. Now and always.

National Geographic Documentary Films /Courtesy Everett Collection