Scene from "The Last Forest". Photo: Pedro Márquez / Publicity.

The É Tudo Verdade 2021 Festival ended on Sunday, April 18, with the film The Last Forest, by Luiz Bolognesi. Before being selected as closing movie of the largest documentary festival in Latin America, the work had already been part of this year's Panorama da Berlinale show, being the only Brazilian production at the prestigious German festival. It was also there that Bolognesi's previous film, ex-shaman, received the Jury's Special Mention for an original documentary in the 2018 edition. Among them, however, there is a big difference – they are almost couplet works. In the first, the story starts with Perpera, a shaman deprived of his strength as a result of the interference of the evangelical church in his tribe. The Paiter Suruí, of which Perpera is a member, are inhabitants of the Sete de Setembro indigenous land, in Rondônia, and lived in isolation until 1969. Perpera was 20 years old when his people made their first contact with whites. Until that moment, he was his shaman. With the entry of the whites and the condemnation of shamanism, Perpera was forced to abandon his ancestral practices, he interrupted his prayers and stopped playing the sacred flutes; as a result of this, he reports the wrath of the forest spirits.

while filming ex-shaman, the director read the fall from heaven, a book written from the words of the Yanomami leader Davi Kopenawa, told – or rather, narrated – to the ethnologist and writer Bruce Albert, with whom he has a long friendship lasting over 40 years. Still in the making of the film, Bolognesi felt the need to make a documentary that showed the opposite of ex-shaman, that is, portray a indigenous group where the shaman is at the height of his powers. In the figure of Kopenawa, the director found the key to this project, deciding to include him in the creative process of the documentary, not just as a character. right at the beginning of The Last Forest one feels a strangeness that manifests itself in the uneasiness to know how the film manages to get so close and in such an organic way. Part of this feat comes from Kopenawa. Right in pre-production, the shaman expressed to Bolognesi that he didn't want to make a film about victims, or a romantic cliché. “We are a very strong people, very beautiful and we are very healthy”, he would have said, according to the director told a conference to AFP.

The inclusion of the shaman in the construction of the documentary forced the team to think about how the cinematographic language and the Yanomami way of life could be pollinated in the movie. In this sense, one barrier was the fact that the Yanomami do not distinguish between dreams and what we recognize as real. "For them, and for most indigenous peoples in Brazil, there is no separation between what is the real world and what is a dream. We separate, the place of legends is kept in a box as if it were something fake. For them, what happens at night, during the dream, is true. The Indian may have spent the night flying like an owl or woke up very tired after having run away from a jaguar”, reports Bolognesi to Márcia Bechara, from RFI. “Actually, a lot of the things that happen during the day, they only understand at night,” she says. In the same interview, Bolognesi details: “We then decided to film in an indigenous way, also filming dreams and dealing with a level of reality where we cannot separate what is reality, what is a dream, what is magic, what is myth, what is which is classic documentary, which is staged documentary. It's actually all a big mix, which translates to the way they handle it.”

Davi Kopenawa in a scene from "The Last Forest". Photo: Disclosure.
Davi Kopenawa in a scene from “The Last Forest”. Photo: Pedro Márquez / Publicity.

In the arduous struggle to protect their traditions, even being recorded, the Yanomami still retains aspects of it to himself. At the ceremony shown in The Last Forest, for example, one can intuit what happens while the shaman communicates with the spirits, but nothing is revealed, there are no subtitles, it is a moment in which the spectator understands the occurrence of the ritual and is content to witness it through the movie. About this episode, to João Pedro Soares, from Deutsche Welle, Bolognesi tells: “They talk and sing all the time. I asked Davi and other shamans: can you tell what is being said and sung for us to subtitle? They said no, and the film doesn't have that subtitles." He adds that “we perceive the force of that, but we do not have the capacity nor are we allowed to understand what is being said”. The director also explains that from what he was told by the Yanomami, in the rituals, the shaman becomes a kind of antenna. “The spirit speaks in the first person, through its mouth, to the other shamans and to the community.”

The director attributes the achievement of being able to record the rite, in The Last Forest, to the relationship of trust created with Kopenawa and the tribe, a long, four-week process of discoveries, interactions, conflicts and enchantments. THE sensitivity of the entire team, very small, of six people, is highlighted, as is the listening of Pedro Márquez, a cameraman who also worked on ex-shaman and whose role in this film was central.

Scene from "The Last Forest". Photo: Pedro Márquez / Publicity.
Scene from "The Last Forest". Photo: Pedro Márquez / Publicity.

“We were delighted with the Yanomami reality: a woman making a basket, a child taking a bath, a hunter in action, someone making a palm-leaf backpack – everything had a lot of poetry. We couldn't be raw and depoetize this narrative. We had some difficulties”, reports Bolognesi to Camila Gonzatto, in an interview for the Goethe Institute. "We sought to make a cinematography that respected the beauty of their skin, that took advantage of the beige palettes of the baskets, the color of the hammocks. Always being careful not to force your hand. We were looking for a photograph that would re-establish the poiesis of being Yanomami”, he says about Márquez's work. Along with that, it was necessary to face the story “without also the false purism: there are Havaianas flip-flops, shorts, cell phones, several elements there, but deeply connected with the semantic epicenter of their culture, the aesthetic expression of their culture. It's all very alive there.”

What threatens their traditions is the entry of the white man. There is urgency; there never was. But there is now too much urgency as they face the encroachment on Yanomami lands by some 20 illegal miners accused of destroying forests and polluting rivers with mercury. Even though they are preserved – in theory – President Jair Bolsonaro defends their exploitation, while questioning the extent of the Yanomami reserves. In the short term, the heavy metal used in illegal mining kills the fish and animals that drink the river's water and can even contaminate the indigenous people who bathe in those waters. In the long run, the lack of food and the apparent easy way out through mining tempt young people to abandon their traditions and abandon the tribe, something that terrifies Kopenawa.

“Omana hid the ore underground so no one could move it. The whites turn the land to extract oil, gold… And they release the evil spirits. The smoke of the disease spreads. Diseases and poison can increase. Omama gave us this forest to look after.”


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