Globo’s ‘Aruanas’: Estela Renner on a Female-Centric Amazon Thriller

CANNES  — Do yourself a Netflix. On July 2, Brazilian media giant Globo launched Amazon.set thriller “Aruanas,” a single scripted series produced for OTT service Globoplay, in 150 countries worldwide using Vimeo-powered platform aruanas.tv. It offers  subtitles in 11 languages: English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Dutch, Russian, Arabic, Hindi, Turkish and Korean.

That global initiative reflects “Aruanas”’ urgency.

A domestic co-production – as is the case now with many top Globo series – between the TV broadcast-pay-SVOD giant and Maria Farina Films, “Aruanas” turns on three childhood friends, top lawyer Veronica, played by Tais Araujo (“Mister Brau”), TV talk show host Natalie (Débora Falabella, “Brazil Avenue”), and deering-do activist Luiza (Leandra Leal, “A Wolf at the Door”) who set up an Sao Paulo environmental NGO.

A journalist, Otávio, promises them a damning report on KM, an Amazon mining corporation whose practices risk “environmental tragedy,” he says. Meanwhile, when KM thinks it’s discovered gold deposits under an indigenous community rainforest reserve which is “Serra Pelada times two,” Miguel, its silken owner, hires Olga Ribeiro, after she’s explained how she will blackmail or bribe politicians into voting through a bill stripping an indigenous reserve if its protected status.

“Aruanas” is not just TV. Inspired by true events, it comes at a time when eco-activists are calling out Brazil’s new far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, for making it clear illegal loggers, 70%-80% of the sector, have little to fear. Since Bolsonaro took office trees have been disappearing at the rate of over tow Manhattans a week, The Economist reports.

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South American nation ranks number one in the number of activists killed. In 2017 alone, 57 activists were killed, of which 80% were eco-activists.

Variety talked to co-writer Estela Renner and Globo’s Raphael Correa before “Aruanas” plays as a market screening at Mipcom on Tuesday, Oct. 15

What has been the result of the online distribution? Can you give figures?

Correa: With “Aruanas,” we tried a brand-new distribution model which fits this moment of transformation we are going through as a company, in which we get back to the direct relationship with the consumer as a new possibility. At Mipcom, we are searching for better business partners to join us in giving continuity to the movement we started in July, internationally and, in Brazil, through Globo’s streaming platform, Globoplay. We also built a network with the main activists in the world. The production was very well-received and applauded by for its choice of  theme and its social relevance. This presentation to the market gives continuity to this strategy.

You also scheduled theatrical previews for London on June 18, New York on June 24 and in Sao Paulo on June 27 and in Portugal on July 18. What was their goal and impact?

Correa: With launches in London, New York, Lisbon and Sao Paulo, we’ve positioned “Aruanas” in some of the international markets. The events, besides the showcase of some episodes followed by debates on the environmental and human rights causes, had the participation of the cast, the directors and some representatives of international organizations which are references in the Environment and Human Rights.

The choice of these regions took into consideration strategic markets for the distribution and the activation of multipliers of the messages conveyed by the series, considered with a content of social impact.

The receptivity of the entities and the audience and the repercussion of the series showed us that we chose the right path for our strategies.

Greenpeace advised on the series. “Aruanas” has the support of Amnesty International, WWF, Global Witness, UN Environment, UN Women and Open Society Foundations. What was their role? How did they help?

Renner:  Greenpeace has been with us since the beginning. The first activists interviewed for the survey were part of the organization. We consulted the group throughout the narrative development, and, in the beginning of the production, the team and the cast organized a workshop with them.

The other partner NGOs (the full list is at aruanas.tv), will unveil “”Aruanas” in several countries through their communication channels, with the intention of showing the complexity of what is happening in the Amazon today.

We felt very accomplished – gathering all those partners – environmental, human rights, digital activism and indigenous NGOs, among others – in favor of the same goal: Raising awareness and valuing the work of activists in Brazil and in the world.

CREDIT: Fabio Rocha/Globo

Only natives and celebrities like forests,” Miguel says in Ep. 2. “Aruanas” comes, for example, as Javier Bardem’s “Sanctuary,” about the campaign for an Antarctic ocean sanctuary, world premiered at Toronto and then had a rousing reception at San Sebastian Festival. Eco-concerns seem a near defining part of millennials and beyond. Do you see “Aruanas” as potentially playing to a very large audience?

The theme of ‘Aruanas’ is very current and timely. It is a fictional series with reality as its main inspiration.

In the series, we want to portray the Amazon where people live, not only the well-known exuberance of the forest. Manacapuru was an explosion of colors, life and people who are full of stories. We believe that the standing forest is a lot more valuable than the deforested forest. It is intimately connected to its people. For us, the 25 million people who live there may have income alternatives connected to the bioeconomy that provide them with a more profitable and sustainable life.

Only in 2018, the deforestation of the Amazon increased 14%, representing the biggest leap in the last decade. So, this is an important topic for everyone, and the series offers a connection between the audience and the current challenges.This is why the series is so special for us. Being a part of this series is being with all the activists. It means owning up to this struggle and taking it forward.

 “It’s a case of narrative control. We can either tell it from our perspective, or they’ll tell it from theirs,” Natalie says as the “Aruana” founders discuss whether to forefront the Amazon destruction on her talk show. You of course have narrative control on “Aruanas”. But what were the major things you took especial care about on the series so that it functions as a series, and hence as a sounding board for the huge dangers of deforestation and pollution?

Renner: Sustainability has always been in the whole production of “Aruanas.” Following the social commitment of Globo and Maria Farinha Filmes, it was the first Brazilian audiovisual production company certified as a B Corporation. Aruanas used a blockchain to neutralize its greenhouse gas emissions, and reused 90% of the costumes, recycling second-hand clothes and producing less waste.

Throughout the shooting in the Amazon, the actors and local extras represented 3.8% of the cast. Besides, 47% of the production team was made up of women – part of a movement that valued women’s work and represented an essentially female project.

What were the guidelines you had for the series’ direction?

The creation and general direction processes of ‘Aruanas’ were very special. We used as a reference books by great photographers as Miguel Rio Branco, Claudia Andujar and Luiz Braga. While analyzing the times and narrative rhythms, we chose to do something visceral, real, with the camera in hand. When we went to Manacapuru, in Amazônia – the place where we shot the series – for the first time, a big umbrella was opened, and it was as if something really strong and powerful was presenting itself.

CREDIT: Globo/Fábio Rocha