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We’ve heard the sto­ries of log­gers bul­ly­ing rain­for­est na­tives to steal their land. It’s an is­sue alive and well to­day. Ama­zon Souls is a doc­u­men­tary that tracks 21-year-old Sarah Begum as she lives with the Huao­rani peo­ple in the Ecuado­rian Ama­zon.

Di­rec­tor/Pro­ducer: Sarah Begum Re­leased: 15 May 2013 (Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, France); 12 June 2013 (Sh­effield In­ter­na­tional Doc­u­men­tary Fes­ti­val,UK) Run­ning Time: 40 mins Of­fi­cial Web­site: face­­be­gumt­varahBegumTV Rat­ing:

There is no bet­ter way to learn about a cul­ture than to com­pletely im­merse your­self in it. That is ex­actly what Sarah Begum did in 2010. 21-year-old Sarah spent sev­eral months in the Ecuado­rian Ama­zon to learn about the Huao­rani peo­ple’s way of life. Begum’s ex­pe­ri­ence was doc­u­mented in the short film

Ama­zon Souls, shown at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val Short Film Cor­ner this year. Ama­zon Souls not only doc­u­ments Begum’s “great­est ex­pe­di­tion”, but the pro­duc­tion of the film also made Begum the youngest fe­male Doc­u­men­tar­ian. In the film, Begum trav­els deep into the Ecuado­rian Ama­zon to ob­serve and learn how the mod­ern world has im­pacted the Huao­rani tribe’s way of life. Iso­lated from mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion, the tribe lives off the nat­u­ral re­sources of the rain­for­est and has a cul­ture that ex­tends back thou­sands of years. Ama­zon

Souls por­trays the tribe’s way of life as be­ing un­der con­tin­ual threat from mod­ern in­dus­tries look­ing to ex­ploit their land and nat­u­ral re­sources. How­ever, some of the younger mem­bers of the tribe are start­ing to take ad­van­tage of the mod­ern world, giv­ing tours to tourists and sell­ing hand-made goods. As Begum’s jour­ney in the rain­for­est con­tin­ues, you see her gath­er­ing food with the women, hunt­ing mon­keys with the men, and even get­ting ‘mar­ried’ to a mem­ber of the tribe; the Huao­rani peo­ple’s will­ing­ness to ac­cept Begum is ut­terly amaz­ing. It is even more sur­pris­ing, then, to learn how the tribe re­sorts to vi­o­lence to pro­tect their land from un­wanted for­eign­ers. Al­though en­joy­able, the Ama­zon Souls nar­ra­tive is some­what clichéd. It re­minds me of ev­ery movie I was forced to watch in my an­thro­pol­ogy class in un­der­grad­u­ate col­lege: a per­son from a highly de­vel­oped na­tion goes to visit a ‘prim­i­tive’ and scant­ily clad in­dige­nous tribe, to learn about their cul­ture and ex­trav­a­gant rit­u­als. It’s a story that isn’t new, and I con­fess I did roll my eyes a lit­tle at the start of the movie. How­ever, Begum’s re­la­tion­ship with the Huao­rani peo­ple is truly en­dear­ing: she makes an hon­est ef­fort to join in their tra­di­tions, even strip­ping down to her ‘birth­day suit’ for a drink­ing cer­e­mony! As a short film, Ama­zon Souls packs in a lot in 30 min­utes. Some­times, how­ever, less can be more. The cin­e­matog­ra­phy at the film’s start is stun­ning: close-up shots of the river Begum trav­eled on, con­trast­ing with wide an­gle shots of the rain­for­est. There­after the vis­ual beauty is side­lined for the nar­ra­tive. The film’s edit­ing gives the im­pres­sion that the ex­pe­di­tion took place over a mat­ter of days. Only later did I learn that Sarah had been stay­ing with the Huao­rani tribe for months; she even taught English to chil­dren in some of the Ama­zon schools. Sixty min­utes would be a bet­ter length to ab­sorb more of the trop­i­cal won­der. Be­sides feel­ing rushed, I ini­tially had reser­va­tions with the end­ing. Sarah wants the viewer to in­ter­nalise the feel­ing that de­for­esta­tion is a real threat and that we all have to do some­thing about it. It is an un­com­fort­able and un­set­tling con­clu­sion. But given that the Huao­rani tribe may cease to ex­ist in 10 years, this is prob­a­bly no bad thing.

Lucy Huang has a de­gree in molec­u­lar bi­ol­ogy from Skid­more Col­lege and is Guru’s first of­fi­cial in­tern. When she isn’t in­tern­ing for Guru, she is busy re­hears­ing for dance per­for­mances and mak­ing cups of tea at David’s Tea shop in New York City.

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