2022, PG, 83 min. Directed by Alex Pritz.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Aug. 19, 2022
By all accounts, it is generally acknowledged that the Amazon rainforest is a good thing to have on this planet. Necessary, you might say, to the continued existence of the human race. But having something is one thing; keeping it is becoming a much more tangled affair. In The Territory, director Alex Pritz focuses on the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau tribe and their position as the front-line defense of the various forces seeking to acquire their protected land for their own purposes. Once numbering in the thousands, these Indigenous people are now a scant 200. That's not a very robust force to stave off the large number of farmers, settlers, corporations, and politicians who’ve got their eyes on this particular piece of real estate.
The Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau have supporters, of course: notably Neidinha Bandeira, a tireless activist who has been fighting for Indigenous rights for most of her life. She and Bitaté, the young and newly appointed leader of the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau, use the tools of the modern age – notably, drones and social media – to report incursions and drum up support in the public eye. The problem here is that the authorities appear reluctant to act and Brazilian discourse on Indigenous rights and the Amazon in general is complex, steeped in history, political movements, and religion. Take Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro: Elected in 2018, he has repeatedly undermined Indigenous and environmental protection services and halted recognition of Indigenous land. The Territory follows the various farmers and settlers, some surveying the land and wading through paperwork and bureaucracy, but others just carving a path through the jungle with fire, adhering to a more manifest destiny approach. As one settler explains, surrounded by trees engulfed by flames, “Every road in Brazil was built like this. First with a chainsaw. Then a tractor.”
These perspectives add depth to Pritz’s film, but this is an activist documentary to be sure. The various assaults on Bandeira and the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau tribe are documented with ground-zero intensity. Bandeira receives a phone call that her daughter has been kidnapped, only to find her safe at home. She has to build increasingly stronger walls around her house, now topped with razor wire. A beloved member of the tribe is found murdered on the side of the road, his body beaten and bound. There are no easy answers in The Territory, just a plea for awareness, for intervention. This cradle of biodiversity, all 2.5 million square miles of it, may represent something different to each of us: global resource, scientific marvel, native home, the last Band-Aid against climate change, etc., but the less it’s viewed as a crime scene, the better for everyone.