Venice critics praise film on Brazilian Indians

Mon Sep 1, 2008 10:20am EDT
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By Silvia Aloisi

VENICE (Reuters) - A new Italian film brings to the screen the clash between Amazon Indians and wealthy Brazilian ranchers, exploring the collision of two worlds against a backdrop of land disputes, shrinking forests and poverty.

"Birdwatchers," which is in competition at the Venice film festival, was warmly applauded at a press screening on Monday, lifting domestic hopes that one of four Italian movies in the main competition may scoop the Golden Lion top award.

Set in Mato Grosso do Sul state, Brazil's bread basket, the film focuses on a group of indigenous Guarani-Kaiowa with no prospect other than working in slave-like conditions for rich farmers and posing for tourists' cameras for a little cash.

Pushed by hunger and recurring suicides in their community, the natives decide to leave their reserve and camp outside a sugar-beet plantation to claim their ancestral land back.

Half documentary and half fiction, the film features 230 Guarani people on their first outing as actors, alongside an Italian and Brazilian cast in supporting roles. The actors speak local languages with subtitles.

Italian director Marco Bechis, who has a Chilean mother and grew up in Brazil, said his was a film about the "survivors of one the greatest genocides in history."

The Indian population numbered an estimated 5 million when Portuguese explorers first landed in 1500 in what would become Brazil. Over the centuries, they have suffered enslavement, extermination campaigns, disease and neglect.

They now number about 460,000 in about 230 tribes, according to campaign group Survival International.   Continued...