Hot Docs 2023: We Are Guardians

Directed by: Edivan Guajajara, Chelsea Greene, Rob Grobman
Distributed by: TBA

Written by Maria Athayde

In their feature directorial debut Edivan Guajajara, Chelsea Green, and Rob Grobman paint a complex portrait of Brazil. Told through the eyes of Indigenous leaders and forest guardians, illegal loggers, private landowners, climate scientists, farmers, and investigative journalists, “We Are Guardians” offers a kaleidoscopic view of a deeply divided Brazil in the midst of a political, social, and economic crossroad. The documentary frames these problems in terms of illegal logging as a window into the deforestation of the Amazonian rainforest. 

It is through the eyes of Indigenous leader and forest guardian Marçal Guajajara and Indigenous activist Puyr Tembé that we are introduced to the existential threat that illegal logging and deforestation have on Amazonian biomes. Both Marçal and Puyr offer two different perspectives of what it means to work for Indigenous causes. Marçal, in his own words, describes himself as “a guardian – a true protector of the water, forests, and animals.” Meanwhile, Puyr resides in Belém do Para a city located in northern Brazil, and works to protect Indigenous rights from within the political system and works to influence policy change within the big city.  We are also introduced to a private land owner Tadeu Fernandes, who in his own way, tries to protect the Amazon against illegal land invasions and logging. On the opposite side of this fight for the Amazon we have illegal loggers like Vladir Duarte and Elder who understand what they are doing is illegal but do not know how to support their families any other way. 

When the documentary focuses on these deeply personal stories it excels. But in order to tell this story, for non-Brazilian audiences in particular, it needs to provide more context and it does so unevenly. The filmmakers briefly touch upon but fail to elaborate on the complex logging process that starts in the hands of small illegal loggers, large-scale logging farms, and foreign importers. It also fails to explore the complexities of corruption and agricultural lobbying in Brazil including the hold the agriculture sector has over the Brazilian Congress. Finally, it fails to recognize how foreign countries fetishize the Amazon and Indigenous people for ulterior motives and not from the goodness of their hearts. It explores in passing the role agricultural conglomerates and foreign banks play in financing illegal logging. While “We Are Guardians” is an important start and worthy story to tell, as a Brazilian, I have to admit that I am immediately skeptical whenever I see foreign filmmakers attached to any project related to the Amazon rainforest. The documentary does end on a hopeful note recognizing that a growing number of Indigenous people are running for office in Brazil and winning. Here’s hoping that in the next chapters, Indigenous peoples have full control of the narrative to tell their story in their own words and terms.

“We Are Guardians” was screened as part of the 2023 edition of the Hot Docs Film Festival.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdSerializd, Twitter, and view more of what she’s up to here.

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