Spirits of the Rainforest

Narrator: Linda Hunt.

Narrator: Linda Hunt.

One of the problems with this extraordinary portrait of Manu, a protected Peruvian rainforest, is that it can’t show how man has so painfully decimated other rainforests. The sadness of preserves that have vanished only points up how Manu Biosphere Reserve stands like a tropical Eden, and this program’s a lovely tribute.

Located in the remote southeast region of Peru, isolated Manu stands as it did almost 10,000 years ago, with four friendly native tribes living as they have for centuries. The preserve is half the size of Switzerland, and hosts 200 species of mammals and over 1,000 types of birds. Producers Ginger Kathren and Neal Williams explore the land’s creatures and vegetation with respect and insight; there’s almost too much to be seen. And heard.

Cries of wild, varicolored macaws sound in the heavy forest, giant otters (reaching 6 feet in length) stretch and frolic in the lakes and rivers.

Some 13 species of monkeys — particularly spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys and their brighter capuchin cousins — cavort in the trees; jaguars slip silently and dangerously through the foliage.

But the center of the docu and of Kim MacQuarrie’s well-organized script is the Machiguenga tribe of Indians. They’re closely observed by American ethnobotanist Glenn Shepard, who speaks their lingo. He temporarily lives among a native family headed by a great-grandfather whose nagging wife accuses him of sleeping all the time — he’s in his 80s — and eating dirt.

His son, the grandfather, talks with Shepard, telling him of legends and shamans and how the local plants are used for drugs. His son, the hunter, takes his small boy out to shoot monkeys for food or to fish, while his wife tends to cooking.

Integrated into the family’s ways, Shepard quietly, earnestly seeks answers to what lies ahead for the isolated Machiguengas, and shows how happy they are with no exposure to western or eastern culture.

“Spirits” has been magnificently photographed, with sweeping shots of forest tops, curling rivers, rich jungle interiors — and a tropical rain storm. There are several abrupt transitions from subject to subject; otherwise, the editing is superb.

The filmmakers, challenged in getting to isolated Manu after a flight from Lima to Cusco, trucked 2,000 pounds of equipment and film before switching to handmade boats.

The program tells of the give and take among the agreeable natives, and of the medicinal wonders their preserve offers to the medical world. Supported by Jennie Muskett’s haunting music, “Spirits” speaks out for environmental balance and protection of resources — before an amusement park rises on the Manu River.

Spirits of the Rainforest

(Tues. (26), 8-10 p.m., Discovery)

  • Production: Filmed in Manu, Peru, by Discovery Prods. Worldwide and SuperFlow Prods. Exec producer, Tim Cowling; producers, Ginger Kathrens, Neal Williams; director-
  • Crew: Editor, Kathrens; writer, Kim MacQuarrie; camera, Tony Miller, Kathrens , Williams; art director, Hal Small; sound, John Standish; music, Jennie Muskett.
  • Cast:
  • Music By: