Following the last update in late March we entered Achuar territory where we stayed for a period of two weeks. It was a great introduction to indigenous life in the Amazon and some of the current political complexities which exist in the Achuar nation, complexities which informed our decision to focus on the Sapara and Kichwa communities (see below) for inclusion in the documentary, leaving the material filmed in Achuar territory for use as supporting educational resources published alongside the film. These complexities require a much longer explanation, but mainly centre around a current schism of sorts with two figures within the Achuar Nation claiming to be the legitimate President. Communities within the Nation are then split and aligned to one of the two Presidents. Ruben, one of the two, is aligned with President Correa´s ´35´ party and associated with his extractivist platform, and, as such, is fairly widely resented in many communities. Essentially this division means that the Achuar Nation is not currently moving forwards with one voice and has no functioning leadership structure to agree upon a coherent message which they are happy to present. As such it seemed an inappropriate time to put forward messages from within their nation to the international community.
Following our exit from Achuar territory we returned to Puyo where we met our additional cameraman Emilio. With the full team now present we entered the Sapara community of Llanchamacocha where we began our filming work for the documentary. It was a really productive period within an amazing community. They are small in size, around 70 people, but with an extremely strong voice and internationalist outlook with an inspirational leader in Manari who is to play a strong part in the film. They live deep in Pastaza territory in a mountainous region of the Amazon accessible only by small plane. They are currently under extreme pressure from the Ecuadorian State with the threat of the imminent entry of Chinese oil firms who have been illegally granted (i.e. no free prior and informed consent obtained) tracts of land from within Sapara territory to establish new oil wells. This imbued our time here with a fair deal of urgency and also meant that the community was extremely receptive to the film, seeing it as a tool to aid in their resistance against this illegal incursion.
They are an inspirational group of people but on the brink, there is one Sapara speaker left in the community (a UNESCO world heritage language) and with a decision likely in the next few months determining their fate. We worked with people from across the community conducting interviews and filming in the jungle. Key areas explored were the political situation, their unique culture and cosmovision as well as Manari´s spiritual insight as a shaman and use of dreaming as an integral part of their culture. Upon leaving the community Manari travelled to a high court case in Quito whilst his sister Gloria to the UN to represent the Sapara at the Indigenous Forum in New York, so as you can see they are extremely adept at using the international stage where necessary in their struggle which makes for fascinating insights and viewpoints on both worlds, their own and ours, of which they have a fairly comprehensive knowledge.
Following this period of time we returned to Puyo which is the entry and exit town for this region of the Amazon and made ready for the next leg in the Kichwa community of Sarayaku. We entered this community on the 4th May with a 5 hour canoe journey to begin filming. Of a different indigenous Nation, Sarayaku is also hugely different in scale to Llanchamacocha, a city in the jungle of sorts with a population of around 1,200 people it is a staggering example of how a community of this scale can exist in a life of abundance deep in the Amazon. Divided into barrios with connecting suspension bridges, plazas and signs on the paths it was unlike anything we had known of Amazon communities. They are an extremely well organised, outward looking and future-orientated community. With a comprehensive and democratic governance structure, council systems comprised of youth and elder leaders to unite the knowledge forms, international relations directors and pharmacies storing medicine from the surrounding jungle it was a pleasure to work here. We focussed on their political approach, organisation as well as unique views on the jungle and proposals concerning ´la selva viviente´ (the living forest). We interviewed the President, youth leaders, people involved in medicinal programmes as well as the father of the family we stayed with who is one of the oldest remaining shamans of the pre-contact lineage in the Amazon, who at the age of 92 has truly seen the passing of worlds. After 8 days here staying with a family who offered us great warmth and kindness we made to depart back to Canellos and then Puyo.
Upon our return we went on to Coca and Lago Agrio in the North of the country for the final stage of filming. These are oil towns where Texaco-Chevron began their extraction programmes in the 1970’s. The idea was for it to form a contrast point in the film, demonstrating to audiences what it really means when oil companies enter and embed. It was a fairly harrowing experience and not the way we would have chosen to end the film work but we feel it was necessary. Working alongside our local contacts we met people who have lost most of their families to cancers (predominantly Leukemia) caused by oil contamination. Texaco and Chevron consistently employed substandard safety practices allowing billions of gallons of crude to seep into the water table over a period of years from open piscinas (pools) where oil was dumped. We were taken to some of these, which 20+ years on still are full of dried crude. The atmosphere in the town was hostile and unhealthy with extraction ongoing and also semi under the control of Colombian Narcos. However, through collaboration with an association of those affected by the oil contamination (now mounting a multi-billion dollar legal claim against Chevron) we were able to get some good work done.
We are now in Quito renting an apartment and working on editing and producing the trailer. Our aim is for it to be ready within the next four days which we will send out to all the backers and aim to use as a platform for making funding applications for the full editing of the film, as we are now almost out of our personal funds which have been used to date.