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Children of the Amazon

Returning to the rainforest where she photographed tribal populations 15 years earlier, native Brazilian Denise Zmekhol discovers drastic changes in "Children of the Amazon."

Cast:
With: Chief Almir Surui, Chief Itabira Surui, Weita Surui, Arildo Surui. (English, Portuguese dialogue)

Returning to the rainforest where she photographed tribal populations 15 years earlier, native Brazilian Denise Zmekhol discovers drastic changes in “Children of the Amazon.” Well-crafted docu charts the destruction, both ecological and cultural, wrought by decades of still-ongoing deforestation, as well as the efforts to create protected areas. Item could eke out some theatrical dates prior to wider broadcast and educational exposure.

Narrating in English, Zmekhol recalls snapping children of the Surui and Negarote tribes as part of a film crew. Showing these images to the now-grown subjects, she finds their ancient, indigenous traditions have been almost extinguished: They’ve gone from stone tools and self-sufficiency to mechanical appliances and standard economic poverty in a generation’s span. First contact with outsiders in 1969 brought diseases that decimated all but 200 members of one 700-strong tribe, and Christian missionaries used hellfire scares to eradicate old spiritual beliefs.

The government encouraged farmers from other poor regions to move to the area, many via fake land deals; vast stretches of rainforest were burned to create cattle grazing lands, which some tribespeople were forced to labor on without pay. The newcomers also clashed with communities of rubber tappers, who had mined the now-vanishing forest’s resources without actually destroying them.

One of the rubber tappers was Chico Mendes, who led the protest against the deforestation, eventually traveling internationally to raise awareness. Though he advocated strictly nonviolent resistance, the opposition did not. Nonetheless, his legacy lives on in the millions of acres now declared indigenous area preserves. Illegal logging continues, however, along with all resulting pollution, plant/animal extinctions and ozone depletion.

Packing a lot of human interest as well as historical and informational content into 72 minutes, the handsomely shot doc somehow never feels rushed, in part due to the personal affection Zmekhol evinces for her tribal subjects. (And for Mendes, a close friend who asked her to photograph his funeral when rising threats made his imminent death seem inevitable.) Tech/design contribs are accomplished.

Children of the Amazon

Production: An ITVS presentation of a ZDFilms production, in association with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. (International sales: ZDFilms, Berkeley, Calif.) Produced by Denise Zmekhol. Executive director, Sally Jo Fifer. Directed by Denise Zmekhol. Written by Michael J. Moore, Ellen Bruno, Olivia Crawford, Denise Bostrom.

Crew: Camera (color, DV-to-DigiBeta), Antonio Luiz Mendez; editor, Jennifer Chinlund; music, Badi Assad, Nana Vasconcelos; art director, Terry Green; sound designers, Patti Tauscher, James LeBrecht. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, Oct. 29, 2008. (In Mill Valley Film Festival, Mill Valley, Calif.-- Valley of the Docs.) Running time: 72 MIN.

With: With: Chief Almir Surui, Chief Itabira Surui, Weita Surui, Arildo Surui. (English, Portuguese dialogue)

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