Sunday, April 21, 2013

Apaporis: In Search of One River (orig. Apaporis: En Busca del Río) [2010]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing

Apaporis: In Search of One River (orig. Apaporis: En Busca del Río) [2010] (written and directed by José Antonio Dorado) is a Colombian documentary that follows the famed cultural anthrologist/ethnobotanist Wade Davis (most famous his book The Serpent and the Rainbow [IMDb] about the phenomenon of zombification in Haiti) retrace the footsteps of his mentor Richard Evans Schultes who explored the northwest reaches of the Amazon rainforest (found in southern Colombia) during the war years of the early 1940s.  The film played recently at the 29th Chicago Latino Film Festival.

As the documentary notes, the exploration of the outer reaches of the Amazon rainforest, primarily in Brazil but also apparently in Colombia, was driven by the Allied wartime need for rubber.  (After the fall of Malaysia in the war in the Pacific 90% of the world's rubber supply was suddenly in the hands of Japanese forces).  Following the war, the desperate need for alternate supplies of rubber crashed once more.  However, new problems arose...

My own Religious Order, the Friar Servants of Mary, has a connection to this story as they have been responsible for the Catholic Church's Mission in Acre, Brazil, which became a center for the harvesting of rubber from naturally occurring rubber trees in that part of the Amazonian rainforest.  The struggles of the rubber harvesters (seringheiros), often simply poor Brazilians from Brazil's north-eastern coastal regions who were simply shipped out by the Brazilian army to the edges of the country during the war years to harvest the rubber, along with the struggles of the indigenous population of Acre became a cause celebre of the Servite Order on an international level by the 1970s and has continued to this day.  The publication of a book in Portuguese and Italian called The Amazon That We Do Not Know (2006) -- I myself have worked on the English translation of the book, provided here --- seeks to talk about / acquaint readers to the various groups of quiet simple people (both indigenous and simply poor/marginalized) who largely inhabit the Amazon region, people who in Brazil are being largely trampled over by timber and agribusiness concerns. 

In Colombia, the threat to its Amazon region and its indigenous populations hasn't come from the military seeking to define/solidify its country's borders or from greedy cattle ranchers seeking to increase their grazing lands (at the expense of tragically incalculably valuable forest flora/fauna), but (as this documentary notes) primarily from narco-traffickers and then the decades long civil war that has raged in Colombia's hinterlands, the two becoming interrelated as the various guerrilla groups / paramilitaries (the left-wing FARC being the most prominent) have used the cocaine trade (the growing of the coca leaves, harvesting them and then extracting/purifying their active ingredient - cocaine - out of them) to finance their conflicts.

So the concern of Wade Davis along with the documentary maker was whether or not the various indigenous communities that Richard Evans Schultes had found in Colombia's Amazon rain forest would have survived the ravages of the decades-long Drug / Civil War.  Indeed, the town from which documentary film crew embarked on their voyage (I wish I remembered its name...) had been over-run by FARC some years back before being recaptured by government forces in more recent years.

So this documentary is about 'wild country' in more ways than one.  To the relief of all those involved in the documentary, the various indigenous communities appear to have survived.

The film then shows some absolutely beautiful scenery of jungle still largely untouched and indigenous communties, which, while often enough Christianized (by one or another Church or denomination), have also been able to largely preserve their ways.  It is a remarkable film for all those interested in this part of the world and its native inhabitants.  (But I'd like then, honestly, to also take the opportunity again, to plug my own Order's efforts (and others like it) in neighboring Brazil where the problems are, perhaps surprisingly - after all there have been no real wars in Brazil - even more urgent).  Great documentary folks, great job!

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