Film highlights biofuels threat to Brazilian Indians

August 26, 2008

This page was created in 2008 and may contain language which is now outdated.

Italian-Brazilian film ‘Birdwatchers’, selected as one of the films in competition for the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival, highlights the plight of the Guarani-Kaiowá Indians in Brazil, whose lands are being destroyed to produce biofuels for cars and other vehicles.

Birdwatchers (‘La Terra Degli Uomini Rossi’) is a love story set in rural Brazil between the daughter of a wealthy land owner and a young Guarani shaman apprentice, as their two worlds collide against the backdrop of land invasion, suicides, and rebellion.  

The film marks the acting debut of the Guarani Indians in leading roles, including Abrisio da Silva Pedro (Guarani name: Chirivy Poty'i, or ‘beautiful little boy’) as the shaman apprentice. 230 Guarani, who had never acted before were involved in the making of the film. It is written and directed by Chilean/Italian film maker Marco Bechis, and stars Italian actor Claudio Santamaria (Casino Royale), and leading Brazilian actor Matheus Nachtergaele.

Guarani actor Ambrósio Vilhava (Guarani name: Kunumi Taperendi, or ‘boy who shines like the rising sun’) says he hopes the film will result in the legal recognition of their land. ‘This is what I most hope for: land and justice.’

The Guarani-Kaiowá live in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. ‘Mato Grosso’ means ‘thick forest’ but there is barely any forest left. In the last 70 years, the Guarani have lost much of their land to cattle ranchers and sugar cane and soya planters, often in brutal evictions.

Today they occupy a fraction of it and many have ended up working in virtual slavery on the ranches and plantations. Many children suffer, and some have died, from severe malnutrition.

Brazil has been one of the world’s leading biofuels producers for decades, and most of its cars can run on ethanol. The country also aims to become a leading exporter of ethanol, with ambitious plans to export 26 billion litres a year by 2010.

Much of the sugar cane from which the ethanol is produced is grown on the land previously occupied by the Guarani’s forests. In Mato Grosso do Sul state alone, there are eleven sugar mills and ethanol distilleries, with another thirty under construction, and plans for a total of 84.

In the last 20 years, 517 Guarani-Kaiowá have committed suicide: many were young people. The youngest, Luciane Ortiz, was only 9 years old. Tired of waiting for the authorities to intervene, for some years now the communities have begun to reoccupy their lands, provoking violent reactions from the ranchers and their gunmen who intimidate, beat up and even kill the Indians.

Survival International has opened a fund, in association with the film, to help the Guarani defend their rights, lands and futures.

Survival’s director Stephen Corry said, ‘I hope this film will bring attention to the shocking plight of the Guarani, their acute land shortages, and the biofuels industry which threatens to make their problems even worse.’

Premiere: 1 September, 7.30pm, Sala Grande, Venice Film Festival
Press conference: 1 September, 11.30am, Casinò (3rd floor), Venice Film Festival. With Marco Bechis (director + writer), the Italian actor Claudio Santamaria and 5 Guarani Indian actors.

The Guarani actors are available for interview. For further information please contact Miriam Ross at Survival International (44) (0)20 7687 8734 or (44) (0)7504 543 367 or email [email protected]

Visit the film’s website