“One would hope Waters of Pastaza itself might be as playful as the children of this river, but Alves’ work is an observational piece of documentary filmmaking. She only invites us to be a part of the environment.”
Inês T. Alves’ debut feature in Berlinale’s Generation Kplus section starts with a quote from late Portuguese philosopher Agostinho da Silva. “Children’s qualities should be preserved until death, as qualities distinctively human – those of imagination, instead of knowledge; play, instead of work; totality, instead of separation.” He also said, “It is the child the one that must be considered the noble savage,” and that we should misshape a child as little as we possibly can.
Alves takes us to the Pastaza River, on the border between Ecuador and Peru, as we walk through the forest with a local group of children of the Achuar communities. They chop the trees with machetes, collect bananas, take the boat back home, catch some fish, break the fish necks. These children still live in the way of their land. They’re not afraid of some Amazon creatures, alien looking insects or unusually large birds. It’s like civilization could not spoil them and they’re living to their true nature. They’re as organic a part of the forest as the fungi growing out of the logs. But no, it’s not that simple; step by step we witness that there are smartphones and tablets in this world too. And there will be schools, with uniforms. They will be shaped, inevitably. But the Pastaza River represents some kind of passage, a constant movement, a way of freedom and purification. They will change. Yet they will stay the same.
One would hope Waters of Pastaza itself might be as playful as the children of this river, but Alves’ work is an observational piece of documentary filmmaking. She only invites us to be a part of the environment. Look, don’t judge, but remember that this is who we are. This may be among the most unshaped human behavior you can witness around the globe right now, it’s primitive and primal, and it should be preserved. The children have their fun with the phones, and at some point, their camera even turns to the director herself. Alves’ film doesn’t say the technology will necessarily corrupt them; a film this much in sync with nature seems to understand that this is also part of evolution and the human condition. Everything’s fine in the long journey, as long as the kids can stay themselves.