In 2012, a great number of Brazilian Facebook users started adding the words ‘guarani-kaiowá’ to their profile names in support of the eponymous indigenous nation fighting for their land. Not many people had been aware of their specific plight, but the repercussion on social media, inspired by their resilience and willingness to die for their territory, succeed in pressuring the government. They performed an about-face on the eviction orders that could have led to a massive tragedy.
The struggle of the kaiowás goes back to imperial times, and currently their situation is very vulnerable and precarious. This 2012 episode is another chapter in a long saga of violence and persecution against these Brazilian autochthonous people. Martírio, the new film by anthropologist Vincent Carelli, an indigenist with a 40 year-track record of moving image activism through his Video nas Aldeias project, is a detailed lesson in kaiowá history, a film Carelli is probably the most qualified person to make. He has a vast knowledge of the indigenous cause, contacts, archival material as well as plenty of talent as a filmmaker.
The result is a powerful ode to this native nation, their spirit, culture and history, as well as a journalistic take on their current situation. Martírio is a denunciation of the horrors perpetrated against native Brazilians in the name of agribusiness, especially soya and livestock farming, and validated by virulent racism.
It is also an activist film. It weaves together archival and historical footage, scenes from political hearings in the Brazilian Congress (which provide some of the most dread-inducing, spine-chilling moments of the movie), and new footage of representatives of the 50,000 kaiowás. Its superb editing and rich topic ensure the film never flattens out (despite running for 160 minutes). The static camera sequences require no voice-over, as they are self-sufficiently eloquent.
One of the background stories is a constitutional amendment the agri-lobby within the Congress wants to pass (PEC 215), transferring the responsibility to demarcate indigenous land from the executive’s office for aboriginal people (Funai) to Congress. It basically places the land in the hands of the greediest people. It is like putting the mosquito in charge of the malaria prevention. One sequence showing a fundraising auction in Mato Grosso do Sul state (where the Brazilian kaiowás are) to help farmers facing litigation reveals the hate that congresspeople – such as Kátia Abreu and Ronaldo Caiado – have for indigenous people.
Carelli adds an authorial layer to the film with the use of a first person narrative, which makes complete sense considering his long track-record in indigenous rights. It also serves the purpose of clarifying that this is not an observational documentary in the Frederick Wiseman school of film: it is an educational film taking the side of the victims of a genocide that has been dragging on for over five centuries. In the case of the kaiowás, the genesis of this murderous conflict can be traced back to the Paraguayan War (1864-1870), when their land started being taken from them by the emperor to meet the economic interests of elite groups.
Right now, the guarani-kaiowás are in the southwest of Brazil, reoccupying their lands in a demonstration of utter resilience and perseverance – and at risk of being killed, like many of them have been. This includes community leader Nísio Gomes in 2011, whose body was never found. But the fight is essential for their survival as a group. In the reoccupied areas, there is hope for a better future.
Carelli gives the kaiowás plenty of space in the film to express themselves in a way that Brazil as a country denies them. This way, he creates a vivid picture of their culture, spirituality, strength and revolt. Alternating between moments of straightforward factuality and cinematic poetry, Martírio is a powerful human rights document that reveals all the ugliness of capitalism, colonialism, racism and greed. But, above all, it is a celebration of a people that has endured too much for far too long.
Martírio was financed through a crowdfunding initiative that managed to raise R$85,000 (£22,000) thanks to the contributions of more than 1,000 people. It is part of a trilogy started with Corumbiara (2015), named after a place in the Brazilian state of Rondônia where 12 indigenous people were murdered in 1995. The third and final film of the trilogy will be Adeus, capitão, currently in production phase, and which will document the effects of capitalism on an egalitarian society.
Sadly the violence against indigenous people is not confined to Brazil. We recommend the Peruvian doc When Two Worlds Collide (Heidi Brandenburg/ Mathew Orzel, 2016 ) for their situation if the neughbouring South American country. Just click here in order to accede to our review of the equally powerful and urgent movie.
Martírio shows on April 19th at Moving Pictures Cinema in London. Click here for more information.