Eye-opening docu views several decades of questionable research about Amazonian Brazil's Yanomami.

The anthropological field resembles a vipers’ nest of ethical breaches and academic backstabbing in “Bus 174″ helmer Jose Padilha’s “Secrets of the Tribe.” This eye-opening docu views several decades of questionable research and behavior that ultimately rendered Amazonian Brazil’s Yanomami — once considered the last, “purest” primitive society untouched by outside influence — bitterly cynical toward First World interlopers. Absorbing feature is slated for HBO broadcast later this year, with wider fest play and tube sales assured.

The major adversaries here are two well-known U.S. authorities on the subject. Napoleon Chagnon began studying the Yanomami in the 1960s, penning the popular tome “Yanomamo: The Fierce People,” which described bloody intertribal wars. But his data, conclusions and tactics (plus involvement in a reckless spread of Western diseases) have been seriously questioned. Ardent foe Kenneth Good’s books sparked a flood of New Age-y media portraying Yanomami as peaceful innocents, but Good was criticized for marrying a 13-year-old tribeswoman. Levi-Strauss protege Jacques Lizot (who refused to be interviewed) allegedly traded Western goods (even guns) for pederastic sexual services. Colleagues both supportive and appalled are featured in this fascinating assembly of heated debate and archival footage.

Secrets of the Tribe

Docu

Production

An HBO Documentary Films production in association with BBC and Stampede. Produced by Mike Chamberlain, Carol Nahra, Marcus Prado. Executive producers, Nick Fraser, Dan Cogan, Diana Barrett, Abigail Disney, Jim Swartz, Susan Swartz, Sarah Johnson Redlich, Emily Pottruck, David Pottruck, Julia Parker Benello, Juliette Timsit, Caroleen Feeney. Directed by Jose Padilha.

Crew

Camera (color), Lula Carvalho; editor, Felipe Lacerda; music, Joao Nabuco. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema -- competing), Jan. 23, 2010. English, Spanish, French, Italian dialogue. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Napoleon Chagnon, Kenneth Good, Patrick Tierney, Terence Turner, Jesus Cardoso, Brian Ferguson, Edward O. Nelson, James V. Neel, Robert Borofsky, Barbara Johnston, Marie-Claude Muller, Leslie Sponsel, Ray Hames.
With: Napoleon Chagnon, Kenneth Good, Patrick Tierney, Terence Turner, Jesus Cardoso, Brian Ferguson, Edward O. Nelson, James V. Neel, Robert Borofsky, Barbara Johnston, Marie-Claude Muller, Leslie Sponsel, Ray Hames.

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