When Two Worlds Collide
WHEN TWO WORLDS COLLIDE, documentary, not rated, The Screen, 4 chiles
Directors Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel’s harrowing documentary details the efforts of the indigenous communities of the Peruvian Amazon to protect their ancestral lands from development and exploitation by private industry and government policy. When Two Worlds Collide is an in-depth, and at times dramatic, look at the conflict. The result of a 2006 free trade agreement between Peru and the U.S. paved the way for ominous legislation that led to greater logging activity, oil exploration, and development in the already embattled rainforest — at the expense of natural habitats and indigenous ways of life.
The filmmakers are clearly on the side of the indigenous communities, but in situations such as those presented here — where human rights violations come into play — the other side is actually indefensible. AIDESEP, the Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest, protested laws that they claimed violated indigenous rights. Peruvian president Alan García dismissed AIDESEP’s concerns, and the exploitation of the rainforest continued. A peaceful protest, led by AIDESEP, blocked roads into the rainforest and effectively shut down an oil pipeline. The protests dragged on, and in the second month, the Peruvian government sent the national police force in to quell them.
When protestors chant that their fight is not with the police but with the government, and when police respond that they have no wish to harm anyone because “we’re all Peruvians,” there is a moment when it seems the officers might lay down their arms and join the protestors. That optimism is short-lived. In the town of Bagua, the clash with the police turned violent. Numerous lives were lost on both sides amid the gunfire. The video recording of these events shows brutal, shocking footage.
The film is centered around AIDESEP’s president Alberto Pizango, to whom the filmmakers were granted intimate access when he served as their guide into rural, indigenous communities. While the real inside perspective comes from Pizango’s camp, the loss of life on both sides is treated respectfully, and we are given a poignant look at the families of the fallen police officers. Pizango, deemed responsible for the crime, makes a dramatic escape when government forces come to arrest him.
Seeing the families of police officers killed at Bagua adds a poignant dramatic note that echoes the losses of the indigenous people. It’s the Peruvian government, however, that controls the narrative concerning the opposition. García’s policies were seen by many as a means of greater economic independence, good for all Peruvians, and members of his cabinet weigh in. The government’s constant characterization of indigenous people as “savages” and their justifications for resorting to violence are appalling — but expected. Films like this show us the other side — and there is always another side. Brandenburg and Orzel’s documentary is a formidable effort at understanding a complex social and political issue. — Michael Abatemarco
Unidos: Indigenous protestors in the Cahuapanas District, Peru