Through filmmaking, Indigenous communities are ensuring their cultures live on – and embrace the future

Q&A with Brazilian documentary filmmaker Mari Corrêa

Local filmmaking by the Kuikuro people in the Xingu region's Ipatse Village. Pedrio Biondo, Flickr
15 September 2021
15 September 2021

Documentary filmmaker Mari Corrêa will speak at the Global Landscapes Forum’s Amazonia Digital Conference: The Tipping Point (September 21-23, 2021). Join here.

Trained in cinema at the Atelier Varan in Paris, filmmaker Mari Corrêa has worked with Indigenous peoples in the Amazon since 1992. In 1998, she became co-director of the non-profit Vídeo nas Aldeias (Video in the Villages), setting up audiovisual workshops in many Indigenous Amazon communities and, over the next decade, training community members to express their own perspectives and realities through film. Corrêa is now director of the São Paulo-based Instituto Catitu, a non-profit that equips Indigenous women with the means to express themselves and share their stories.

Here, she discusses with Landscape News the struggles she’s witnessed among the Indigenous communities in which she’s worked and how the role that audiovisual expression plays in overcoming them.

Courtesy of Mari Corrêa
Courtesy of Mari Corrêa

Almost 30 years ago, you first traveled to Brazil’s Xingu National Park to make your documentary, O Corpo e Os Espíritus (Body and Soul), and you’ve been going there ever since. What has changed for the Indigenous communities who inhabit this region you came to know since that time?

They have been going through many transformations, some positive and others very negative. In the Xingu, the area where I first began working, the park has today become a kind of oasis of forest surrounded by agriculture, and by the enormous devastation that impacts the territory and lives of its people. It also impacts their food security. There are 16 different groups living in the territory, and the problems are more serious in some areas than in others.

But fire is a central issue. Indigenous people have always done controlled burnings, but now fires get out of control. So there has been a whole process of adaptation of traditional practices in order to cohabit with the situation of climate change.

All in all, there are many difficulties. We are currently living in a situation in the country that is very difficult, with a government that, as everyone knows, is very hostile to Indigenous peoples. Yet at the same time, we are seeing more and more Indigenous people coming out in their own defense.”

Since 1998, you have been training Indigenous peoples to make their own films. By now, you have produced and edited more than 40 of their documentaries, many of which have gone to international film festivals. Why is it important that Indigenous peoples make their own films?

The gaze from outside is important as long as it doesn’t substitute the gaze from inside. It’s a gaze where you transform. There were various dimensions in making films in the communities. They themselves always say that, ‘We want to show ourselves to the society that envelops us, but also in the way we see ourselves, not the way they want to see us.’ This desire is for a dialogue from their point of view, not only the person portraying them.

They also often say that the filming is for themselves as well. This comes from a feeling that certain things, wisdom, the knowledge transmitted by the elders, can be somewhat fragile, as in ‘what will happen when they are no longer with us?’ So it’s a kind of cultural record, born of a concern that we don’t lose this treasure, our patrimony from the elders.

I was recently reminded by a Huni Kuin leader in Brazil’s Acre state how one of our projects began 15 years ago. They wanted to make film about a ritual, the Katxanawa, which they hadn’t practiced for a long time. So the ritual took place, it was a three-day ritual, and they filmed it. The video was circulated among the communities and had the effect of people taking up again a ritual that wasn’t forgotten exactly but not done very much anymore. It brought it back, and today they do that ritual often.

So you put the focus, the camera, on something that’s important for these people, and it has this power. This is why it’s so important for them.

In 2009, you cofounded with other women the Instituto Catitu to work specifically with Indigenous women. Why did you set this up and what kind of effect has it had?

When I arrived in the Xingu, the women did not really participate in the conversation, in the trainings, or on trips. It was the men. If we invited them, there were always many obstacles; they had too much work to do with the family and in the home. I always wanted women to have more access, but it was very difficult for them to participate because of various reasons.

But then the women began to vocalize their desire to express themselves through film. They said ‘We also want to make films that show our things, our work, our lives.’ The question was: how do we bring women into the world of audiovisual creation where they can express themselves, if they were feeling held back by the masculine presence? So we decided to do training and education just for women, to create an atmosphere where women felt more comfortable.

We also set up talking circles, intergeneration groups with older women as well, to discuss organization and the questions that are important to women.

Today we see a lot of women in the front lines of the struggle not only in the public sphere, but also within their communities. There are many women who are taking on positions and demanding more education, more access to information, in order to have the capacity to place themselves in the fight.

The Instituto Catitu is in this movement, supporting what we consider to be a very important voice that brings a renewal in the form of struggle.


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