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: facebook.com/sarahbegumtvarahBegumTV 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.