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A challenge for everyone: recent movie exposes both positive and negative aspects of the battle for the Amazon.
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. A challenge for everyone: recent movie exposes both positive and negative aspects of the battle for the Amazon.


In a 2021 report, the United Nations praised the Indigenous communities of Latin America for being the most effective protectors of the rainforests. A recent film, titled We Are Guardians, showcases the efforts of Brazilian individuals fighting to preserve their territories from deforestation.

The movie, originally released on Netflix in Latin America, is set to be shown in London on March 15 as part of the Human Rights Watch film festival. It is co-directed by Edivan Guajajara, an activist from the Indigenous community in Brazil, and environmental journalists Rob Grobman and Chelsea Greene. One of the executive producers was Leonardo DiCaprio.

Grobman and Greene met Guajajara in 2020 after they came across Mídia Indígena, the Indigenous news network he co-founded.

A man watches as a large tree trunk is dragged away by a tractor

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One of the main focuses of the movie is the tale of Valdir Duarte, an unlawful tree cutter. According to Grobman, Duarte was discovered after a two-day trip on one of the journeys that influenced the film.

Grobman states that we accompanied the guardians on over eight excursions in an attempt to locate the loggers. There were instances when we could hear them nearby, but due to the thick jungle, we were unable to locate them or they would flee. It was a challenging task, akin to finding a needle in a haystack.

“We were apprehensive about approaching these armed and elusive loggers. However, after explaining our purpose to Valdir and his friend, they surprisingly gave us permission to film.”

Grobman explains that it seemed as though Valdir was hoping for someone to inquire about his life, as nobody had ever done so in the past.

According to Greene, it was critical for them to establish a clear opposition between the Indigenous people and the loggers. However, she also wanted to highlight the intricate nature of their relationship in the Amazon areas. Greene explains that the industries have contributed to a cycle where people are forced to stay in these illegal logging jobs.

“Valdir is left with limited choices in his hometown, as he was unable to receive an education.”

Two Indigenous men stand in the rainforest looking up at a huge tree that has had a big slice cut out of the trunk View image in fullscreen

According to Greene, her team faced death threats while on one of their expeditions. She states, “We quickly departed the area.” Another group of loggers discovered their activities and aimed for their demise.

According to her, the trade of illegal timber is adding to the existing tensions between Indigenous communities and loggers. Greene states, “Valdir wouldn’t be facing this situation if the US, Europe, and China did not purchase this protected and endangered hardwood.”

In conjunction with Duarte’s narrative, the film traces the journeys of two prominent Indigenous individuals: Marçal Guajajara, a 32-year-old regional coordinator for the forest guardians of the Araribóia Indigenous territory; and Puyr Tembé, an Indigenous leader and activist from the Alto Rio Guamá territory.

The movie begins with scenes of loggers cutting down a tree that is 500 years old. “To us, they have taken a life, and that is a sorrowful thing,” Marçal Guajajara remarks as he examines the fallen tree. Later, he is shown wearing urucum, a red face paint made from the achiote plant (Bixa orellana), as he gets ready for a monitoring mission.

Puyr Tembé, who wears a cocar feather headdress when she defends her territory and western clothes when she travels to the Amazonian city of Belém for activism, stresses the critical role of Indigenous peoples in protecting forests.

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“In the documentary, it is mentioned that 5% of the global population is made up of Indigenous people, and they are responsible for safeguarding 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity. Shockingly, more than 600 Indigenous land defenders have lost their lives since 2014.”

Tadeu Fernandes, a significant figure in the movie, purchased a vast amount of forest land (28,000 hectares or 69,000 acres) in the 1970s with the intention of establishing an ecological haven. Sadly, his land has been repeatedly invaded, as seen through aerial footage showcasing a makeshift town with 3,200 individuals residing there illegally.

A film poster showing a young woman wearing a a feathered headdress and with a photo of forest instead of her hairView image in fullscreen

Fernandes believes this is the largest environmental wrongdoing in Brazil and is fighting against the apathy of the government. Despite filing around 500 complaints, most have not received any attention.

The film, shot from 2019 to 2022, incorporates a political context into its personal and character-driven story. Tembé is made aware of the ties between influential politicians and the logging industry, cattle ranching, and expanding mining. A former mayor becomes a timber exporter, while members of parliament are accused of accepting funds from agricultural groups.

The movie concludes with a positive outcome, as Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva triumphs over the far-right politician, Jair Bolsonaro, to become the president of Brazil. According to Edivan Guajajara, Lula’s presidency has resulted in beneficial changes, such as the government’s commitment to recognizing Indigenous territories, despite some opposition from Brazil’s National Congress.

“I believe that it is essential to have the involvement of an Indigenous individual when discussing Indigenous matters,” states Edvan Guajajara, a member of the Guajajara tribe from the state of Maranhão. The prominent representative of this people became the first minister for Indigenous Peoples in Brazil.

He claims that the struggle of the Indigenous people is not limited to those within their territory, but rather it is a struggle that affects all of us. He emphasizes that it is a battle for the entirety of humanity.

According to Grobman, the Amazon’s fate can only be positively impacted if people recognize its crucial role in the overall wellbeing of the planet.

He states, “We must all acknowledge our contribution to its demise.”

The three creators of the film initiated a campaign to promote the efforts depicted in the documentary. They were also awarded a $200,000 grant from the Erol Foundation to assist with reforestation and agroforestry initiatives in the Tembé and Guajajara regions.

According to Greene, a handful of companies are responsible for the majority of the damage to the Amazon. It is crucial for people worldwide to speak up against these companies, as enough voices can put an end to their unacceptable actions.

We all have an inherent sense and comprehension that damaging nature ultimately harms ourselves, and we all experience distress towards the current state of our planet.


“The film, We Are Guardians, will be shown at the Human Rights Watch festival on March 15th at the Rich Mix arts center in Shoreditch, London. It will also be available for online viewing from March 18th to 24th.”

Source: theguardian.com