Birdwatchers: Guarani culture, land disputes, rural Brazil and an unpleasant reality

By 22 May, 2011

There is a fine line between very-realistic non-fiction films and documentaries. This is definitely the case with Birdwatchers, a film about an indigenous tribe set in the Centre-West of contemporary Brazil, in the state of Mato Grosso.

Differing from recent Brazilian films which tend to explore police corruption and urban violence in the favelas of Rio and Sao Paulo, Birdwatchers shows another type of problem faced by multicultural Brazil. Chilean-Italian director Marco Bechi delivers this realistic and touching piece of film, filled with sentiment truly transmitted by the “non-actor” members of the Guarani-Kaiowa tribe.

The conflict between European-descendent landowners and the Guarani-Kaiowa tribe, who both believe to have the right over the land they dispute, unfolds into a story of violence and drama. Led by the tribe’s chief Nadio, a group of Guarani-Kaiowa move to the site of a large farm owned by rich landowner, Moreira.

The tension between Moreira and Nadio erupts when the mysterious deaths of young Guarani-Kaiowa members start to happen. Meanwhile, a romance between Osvaldo, a shaman-trainee, and Moreira’s teenage daughter Maria, combined with Nadio’s son leaving the tribe for a job in “the real world” complicate things further.

The film is particularly successful in showing with rich details two vastly different cultures forced to live side-by-side. The cameras capture every aspect of their life in the margins of the Amazon River. It explores the differences between their family values through internal conflicts but it also shows everyday activities of the tribe, the members speaking Guarani and their contact and relationship with “modern” inventions such as money, alcohol and clothes.

The title of the film refers to the fact that often the indigenous tribes are forced away from their ancestral lands and compelled to live in zoo-like reservations, serving as an attraction to tourists, or birdwatchers. The first scene of the film illustrates this really well.

Successful in it’s attempt at being a docu-drama, Birdwatchers’ great cinematography – combined with stunning natural landscapes of rural Brazil – provide some amazing sequences. The realistic performance of actual members of the Guarani-Kaiowa tribe in leading roles is another highlight of this film. It has to be said that in its addressing of important social, political and ecological issues, along with its presentation of unknown world of the Guarani-Kaiowa with such realism, Birdwatchers is a must see.

Birdwatchers will be screening at the VAMOS Festival in Newcastle and Gateshead in 2011. See the line-up here.

You can buy Birdwatchers on DVD from Amazon.

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