A gorgeous work of art as well as a deliberately low-key commentary on the culture clashes generated by modernity’s encroachment into nature, Maya Da-Rin’s “Lands” marks the addition of another strong voice to the roster of Brazilian nonfiction filmmakers. Pic is the vibrant result of three years of research, travel and filming in the remote Amazonia section where Brazil, Colombia and Peru meet, but draws no conclusions about the future of an area where wilderness and urbanization run headlong into each other. Sheer elegance of the work onscreen should enhance the docu’s commercial prospects beyond an excellent fest run.
Da-Rin’s interesting 2007 midlength doc “Margin” also visited this Amazon zone, the ancient habitat of such tribes as the Bora, and site of bustling new cities like Leticia (in Colombia) and Tabatinga (in Brazil). But “Lands” goes much further in its profile of indigenous and urbanite locals. While fellow Brazilian Eryk Rocha’s recent “Pachamama” also explored this same region, Da-Rin’s film is markedly more impressive in its specific focus and artistic range and impact.
Framed by closeup montages of patterns in nature (the ground, leaves, tree bark) and civilization (broken asphalt), dreamlike pic shifts between the burgeoning burgs and the surrounding forest, viewed in a few astonishing aerial shots as a massive world unto itself.
The filmmakers ride along with taxi drivers William Rincon and Carlos Simon Reyes (who better to give the local lowdown?) as they chat about the growth of their towns, the influx of refugees from at least four different countries and, as one of them insists, the fact that “nobody” in the towns ventures out into the jungle “because they’d get lost.”
Well, Da-Rin ventures out but hardly gets lost, finding all sorts of fascinating characters deep in Amazonia that the city folks might never encounter. Basilia Yacob Kumimarima, of the Bora people in Colombia, takes centerstage, denouncing national borders and explaining why indigenous people consider them absurd. Traditional medicine man Francisco Pancho’s methods may be scoffed at in the white man’s world, but seem to work fine among his own people.
“Lands” isn’t a celebration of tribalism but an open-eyed view of cultural differences, and a subtle inquiry into the limits of urbanized growth in an ecologically fragile region. Those subtleties are sometimes heard rather than shown: During one nighttime taxi ride, a radio ad for tourism also mixes in a pro-environment message, even as city traffic blares away.
Due in part to the luscious image-making of cinematographer Pedro Urano, a fluid editing scheme by Karen Akerman, Da-Rin and Joaquim Castro, and an ultramodern music score and soundscape design by Edson Secco, the film glides by in an almost too short 75 minutes. Still, brevity is ultimately a strength, making the film’s sensual images and sounds all the more resonant.