Many documentaries capture the clash of cultures, often told from a distinctive side.
Filmmaker Alex Pritz, who has made a career as a cinematographer filming the most dangerous parts of the world, achieves an incredible feat of immersing audiences in a multitude of perspectives involving the war on Indigenous peoples sanctioned by the Brazilian state with “The Territory”. his directorial debut.
“The Territory” was chosen as this year’s True Life Fund film at the True/False Film Fest. The fund allows festival-goers to donate to documentary subjects, offsetting some of the very real material, emotional and social costs that come with appearing on screen.
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The film centers on the Uru-eu-wau-wau as they fight to protect their already declining land from developers and a right-wing government who have actively campaigned on the promise to rid Brazil of indigenous peoples.
We see their story, but there is also the story of farmers looking to expand. There are also the Brazilians charged with breaking the law and encroaching on indigenous lands. As well as environmentalists who, even living far away, face dangers and threats because of their advocacy.
Although there is clear sympathy in the film, Pritz’s camera captures every angle convincingly and develops a meaningful understanding of this conflict and what it means, even for people living thousands of miles away.
In an interview ahead of the film’s screening at True/False, Pritz said he was often asked how he gained the trust of the Uru-eu-wau-wau people, a group struggling to preserve a traditional way as the world around them demands change. of strength.
“Our early meetings showed that trust needed to be built,” Pritz said. “This community has lost a lot of people who look like me and I wanted ‘confirmed consent’.”
This meant that Pritz taught his subjects what it meant to make a documentary film by opening up the process of how he would film, how he would edit and present his view of film “ownership”.
“It was key to making sure it was understood before I could even ask permission to film them,” Pritz pointed out.
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Once these initial steps were taken, the process evolved to include members of the Uru-eu-wau-wau population filming portions of the documentary.
“By having a local cameraman, we were able to see things that I couldn’t get and allow for self-documentation,” Pritz said.
He is at pains to delineate when these images are used, so “there’s no question that’s their part of the story.”
Self-documentation became a practical necessity as COVID-19 ravaged the Uru-eu-wau-wau community, largely through developer contact. Pritz completely detached himself from the area to protect members of the community, and it was during this time that much of the footage from the people themselves was shot.
Even though the pandemic changed Pritz’s approach, he and his team were still allowed to track farmers and developers. One theme “The Territory” picks up is the religiosity of pursuing that side. Between the roar of chainsaws and the trampling of fallen trees, we hear these men – and they are all men – talking about God’s plan and what the Bible says about the need to cultivate the Earth.
“I looked at this from a Western perspective. About how this concept of Manifest Destiny—the forces of religion and property rights—leads to this idea that land is only good if it’s used for other purposes,” Pritz said.
It’s a fascinating approach that illuminates political trends in our own country.
Pritz achieved the same transparency with these subjects as with the Uru-eu-wau-wau.
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“We were honest about what we were doing to make sure their point of view was heard,” he said. “We were fact-checking. The use of evidence was an important thread in the film.”
While technology has already made its way to this corner of the world several years ago – one critical scene involves tribesmen watching Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on their cellphones – it’s clear that movies like “The Territory” can keep the Uru-eu-wau-wau culture and tradition alive for the outside world.
In fact, some sly meta-comments are emerging as younger members of the populace use their own technology to capture the stories of their people, which once could only be done orally, passed on by elders.
“There was an existing tension between the older generation and the younger generation about technology,” Pritz acknowledged. “But there’s a lot of knowledge that’s not being passed on because of people’s challenges.”
The subjects of the documentary now use the same tools of the documentary filmmaker in order to preserve their way of life. Such a message speaks to the power of the medium itself and adds yet another layer to an already impressive film.
After debuting at Sundance, “The Territory” was picked up by National Geographic Pictures and will receive a theatrical release later in 2022. But Columbia audiences are lucky to be one of the first to see it this weekend. end, as well as hearing ideas from Pritz and a very special guest who will be in attendance.
Guest won’t mean as much unless you’ve seen the movie. Once you do, it will be a real rock star moment and promises to be a festival highlight. “The Territory” is screened from Friday to Sunday. Find the full list of screenings at https://truefalse.org/.
In real life, James Owen is a lawyer and executive director of energy policy group Renew Missouri. He created/wrote for Filmsnobs.com from 2001-2007 before a long stint as an on-air film critic for KY3, NBC’s Springfield affiliate. He was named one of the top 20 artists under 30 by the Kansas City Star when he was much younger than he is now.