By Désirée Guzzetta
The new documentary, “The Territory,” director Alex Pritz’s feature-length debut, combines his footage with that taken by the indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people, whose land in Rondônia, Brazil is being clear-cut by illegal settlers and others. Shot over three years, the film details the conflict over the indigenous tribe’s 6,000 square miles of the Amazon rainforest, a conflict exacerbated by the Brazilian government’s seeming indifference to the Uru-eu-wau-wau’s rights. Darron Aronofsky (“Pi,” “Mother!”) is one of the documentary’s high-profile producers.
“The Territory” almost plays like a thriller. We are introduced to Bitaté Uru-eu-wau-wau (all tribe members take the tribal name for their surname), who is 19 and becomes his tribe’s leader. His mentor, Neidinha Bandeira, has been an activist for several decades trying to support the tribe and protect the rainforest. The work is dangerous, especially after Jair Bolsonaro becomes president of Brazil, an event which emboldens the illegal settlers to further encroach on the Uru-eu-wau-wau’s land. Bandeira receives regular death threats, and Bitaté and his people are treated like they don’t matter. Pritz includes interviews with some of the illegal settlers, including small farmer Sergio, who starts an Association to make his group’s efforts “legal,” and Martins, an invader who feels entitled to a piece of the land.
I saw the film when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2022 and was bowled over by its passion, and a second viewing cemented my opinion that it’s one of the best documentaries of the year.
Ahead of the film’s general release on August 19, 2022, I spoke with director Pritz about his project, including what drew him to tell this story, why he included interviews with the illegal settlers, how he met Neidinha and Bitaté, and how the global community can support the Uru-eu-wau-wau. Spoiler warning: The conversation does include a few spoilers for the content of the documentary.
To learn more about “The Territory” and how you can support the Indigenous people of the Amazon, go to https://theterritoryimpact.org/