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  • Rich D'Amaru

Indigenous cinema and the art of (r)existence

Thiago Cardoso

It was two o'clock in the afternoon and the auditorium of the World Social Forum 2018 was already full. People settled into the chairs to watch the newly released Piripkura. A great film, tragic and poetic at the same time, produced by Zeza Films. It brings to the audience the story of three Kagwahiva Indians (Piripkura) who survived a series of massacres in northern Mato Grosso, Brazil, and who continue to resist. Two Piripkura survivors still live in the forest being considered "Indians in voluntary isolation" by the Brazilian government.

At that moment, in the darkness of the auditorium, in front of the screen, I was touched. The images touched our ethnocentric pretension and brought us “the voice of the voiceless," the perspective of those who do not want to share their words with the world, but send their silent messages that, like arrows, reach our civilizing and genocidal arrogance.

Cinema has this power. It disturbs our imagery. And the indigenous theme continues to be the object of documentaries and fiction to be shown on screens in cinemas, in homes or to watch on our computers. And it is in and with the cinema that many indigenous peoples show the world their voices, perspectives, ways of life and denounce the violations of their rights - the image as part of strategies of (r)existences, to exist as persons and peoples and to resist continuously. The fact is: the Indians "capture" the technology of cinema and in this arena reconfigure it through another aesthetic, language and political objectives.

In an earlier text, I stated that the use of technologies was not necessarily something new among indigenous peoples and does not inexorably represent an acculturative process[1]. On the contrary, daily struggles of diverse indigenous communities have now gained a powerful ally: technology. Televisions, cars, radios and everything else in the world of goods have been part of the daily lives of South American indigenous villages for decades. Mobile phones to communicate with each other, televisions to watch daily programs, internet access, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts to communicate the daily lives of individuals in the village and cities are not new things. And many of these online resources are used to amplify the connection between communities and individuals, and also to overcome the lack of space that these peoples have in traditional media.

The use of cameras in indigenous villages in Brazil has been well documented by anthropologists. Terence Turner, analyzed the video work done by the Kaiapó, highlighting its value as a process of cultural mediation, mainly in the sense of mediating a series of relations between Kaiapó and Brazilian societies[2]. At the same time, projects such as Video in the Villages have been forming indigenous filmmakers since the 1990s aimed at creating films   acoording to their political and cultural projects, and their collective identification expression. From the project Video in the Villages, we can introduce the concept of "native media" as a reflection on the use of those means to provide protagonism,  with significant results for the contemporary indigenous action that can shatter the images of "Indians", discursive and technologically created along the Brazilian historical process.

According to Pamela Wilson and Michelle Stewart, all indigenous media is inherently political. Created for the preservation of culture and language. "Yet, indigenous media has also been used to address injustices within the indigenous movement, to reach out transnationally to other indigenous groups, to raise land ownership claims, and to reclaim the image of the indigenous peoples for themselves"[3].

In 2016 the Biennial of Indigenous Cinema took place in São Paulo, exhibiting 53 films made by indigenous filmmakers, 11 of them produced by women. During the Biennial we had films that reinforce the importance of giving visibility to the voice of the filmmakers, representatives of indigenous cultures, revealing the circumstances in which they operate in their diverse aesthetic and methodological contexts. We highlight films like "Do not like to do but like to eat", made by Maria Cidilene Basílio of the Tukano ethnic group along with Alcilane Melgueiro Brazão, Baré, about the uniqueness of agriculture in the communities of Rio Negro, in the Amazon. In the same theme, the Baniwa Elisangela Fontes Olímpio, exposes her documentary "Nora Malcriada", and Larissa Ye'padiho Mota Duarte (Tukano), presented the autobiographical film "Wehsé Darasé – the work of farming". In addition to these the film "As Manivas de Basebó - Stories and Traditions" was also presented. We highlight the role of women filmmakers, with their beautiful and intimate accomplishments.

Whether with mobile phones or cameras, pictures to post on Facebook or Youtube or to expose in film festivals, whether for political, cultural or artistic purposes, in the dissemination of cultural policy, the indigenous aesthetics of cinema has come to stay.


[2]  "The Social Dynamics of Video Media in an Indigenous Society: The Cultural Meaning and the Personal Politics of Video–making in Kayapo Communities." Visual Anthropology Review 7.2 (1991): 68-76.

[3] Global Indigenous Media Cultures, Poetics, and Politics, Duke University Press, 2008.

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