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Reviewed by Marc Glassman

Marco Bechis, director and writer w/Luiz Bolognesi & Lara Fremder
w/Ambrosio Vilhava (Nadio), Ademilson Concianza Verga (Ireneu), Abrisio da Silva Pedro (Osvaldo)

The fight for native rights in Brazil is at the heart of BirdWatchers, the fourth film by activist filmmaker Marco Bechis. Unlike Argentina and Chile, Brazil’s radical filmmaking tradition rests in narrative filmmaking, not documentaries. Although an appeal for the country’s Guarani tribes appears on the film’s concluding credit roll, this film is played out as a drama, which may not have been the best genre, given its true concerns.

Bechis’s storyline is quite schematic. A Guarani tribe in Brazil’s rainforest is living in such dire poverty that its leader Nadio makes the desperate decision to illegally retake their historic native land. Naturally, the white Brazilians, who now have a plantation on the grounds are angry at this invasion. They try to offer Nadio and his people jobs elsewhere but few go, and those who leave are denounced as traitors.

While tension builds, a white guard flirts with a native woman and two teenagers, one white and one Guarani, are clearly attracted to each other, when they meet at the water’s edge. Bechis spares us nothing of the natives’ lives: we see what excessive drinking, indolence and teenage suicides have wrought on their community.

BirdWatchers begins with a brilliant scene, one that should be placed on YouTube for wider viewership. A boat filled with tourists traveling down a river see natives wearing paint and holding bows and arrows. They all look silently at each other as the boat continues its journey. Then the natives walk quickly back through the forest, where they are met by a couple in a van that pay them for “playing” their historical selves. The Guaranis curse the “civilized” Brazilians for short changing them while they put on T-shirts and jeans.

Regrettably, nothing else in the film matches that scene. BirdWatchers is an important film but not a happy one. Bechis’ direction of a mainly non-professional cast is admirable as is his use of native music and jungle sounds, which contrast quite well with classical music pieces composed by Domenico Zipoli, a Jesuit who lived with the Guarani in the 1700s. This is the kind of film that people should see but won’t–except for true believers.

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