Reviews - Birdwatchers
Reviewed By John Stakes
Chilean Marco Bechis’s film centred on the plight of the indigenous Guarani-Kaiowa people in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil, an area transformed by European farmers over the last sixty years resulting in the displacement of the local tribes into reservations. Their plight however began over 500 years ago. Echoing any western film depicting the opening up of the USA hinterland to the detriment of the Sioux and Mohican Indians, and with shades of the aboriginal film The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, Bechis eschewed heavy political pontification and pretention in favour of a measured and often humorous portrayal of a population at risk of disintegration.
The title stemmed from the practice of some European farmers to stimulate tourism by organising boat trips ostensibly to view the teeming river bird life which also apparently took in observation of the rainforest tribes living along the river banks. At first sight these near-naked people appeared to be caught in history standing motionless with their crudely made bows and arrows and staring at the passing boats before brandishing their spears and firing their arrows seemingly menacingly. It was not until, surprisingly, the camera followed them back inland and not the boatload of ornithologists, were we to learn that they were being showcased by their masters the landowners who, having paid them a pittance, drove them back to their Reservation after they had changed back into their 21st century t-shirts and jeans.
Following the suicide of two young female members at the loss of their cultural identity, the tribe needed to move to keep the spirit of death at bay and resolved to regain Tekoha, their land and its ancient burial grounds now to be found under cultivated soil, much to the annoyance and chagrin of the settlers. Chieftain Nadio, (when not under the influence of alcohol as part of his coping mechanisms) set up a camp at the roadside bordering the arable fields beyond which lay the tangled edge of the old rainforest. Moreira, the local landgrabber promptly dispatched one of his men in a tiny caravan to keep watch and to repel squatters with his handgun. Tensions on each side were counterpointed by fraternisation with the enemy stirred up by sexual attraction especially between Osvaldo, a Guarani and Maria, Moreira’s precocious teenage daughter.
The conflict reached breaking point when Nadio’s son Ireneu also committed suicide after which his father leads the tribe on an attack against Moreira’s henchman driving him off the field and pitching camp there themselves. This reoccupation results in his own death when Moreira’s men gain their revenge. Osvaldo immediately puts on his war paint to descend on Moreira’s home and issue his own death threat with a blood curdling screech of his favourite bird the macaw which brought the film to its abrupt close..
Marco Bechis cleverly elicited both empathy with and sympathy for these unfortunate people by engagingly presenting them as having a twenty-first century awareness and adaptability but nevertheless desperately seeking to return to their land and to regain their historic identity, culture and integrity. His film was always thought provoking and emotionally involving but not perhaps as dramatically satisfying as it could have been. However his use of first time local actors in a docudrama style was inspired which not only gave the film a totally authentic modern feel but also enabled the treatment of these people to be presented with an urgent immediacy notwithstanding the centuries-long nature of their condition.
Bechis’s film has earned him a Silver Ribbon award at the 2009 Italian Film Festival and a nomination for the Golden Lion at the 2009 Venice Film Festival which hopefully may lead to a wider screening of his films in future. For Sunday’s Keswick audience the experience was never less than engrossing.
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