When Two Worlds Col­lide

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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

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