The Yanomami people live in ring-shaped communal housing units called shabonos. Families dwell in a radial, thatched hut that faces a common open space. Right outside the shabono is the evergreen Amazonian rainforest, seemingly unaffected by its inhabitants. Its center, however, is absolutely empty: no paving, no equipment or vegetation. This void is whatever its dwellers need it to be – a playground, a ritual space – but also a symbol of the human domestication of territory: of how it should be balanced and restrained, of how land is meant to be shared.
Luiz Bolognesi’s A Última Floresta (The Last Forest) follows the contemporary, everyday life of a Yanomami community in Brazilian Amazonia. Around 35,000 Yanomami people live in two hundred villages scattered on both sides of the border between Brazil and Venezuela. The sole register of the Yanomami lifestyle, knowledge and cosmogony is hardly the central issue of this feature. Like many other indigenous groups around the world, the Yanomami are facing a critical moment in the midst of a global pandemic, climate change, rainforest destruction, land possession reforms and acculturation.
There’s an otherness implicit to any work in documentary form (even if the subject is the director him- or herself). As we go back to the classic formats of ethnographic documentary – from Jean Rouch’s influential works to generic NatGeo capsules – race has always been a central ingredient in this otherness. White people cannot see us; white people cannot understand our language. Bolognesi’s feature does not rely on portraying the Yanomami culture for the sake of the spectator’s instruction or amazement, but to share their multi-layered crisis as an example of the unsustainable effect of humanity on Earth. The Last Forest‘s most challenging strategy is a community effort: three young Yanomami become actors in order to depict the creation myth of their clan.
Through Davi Kopenawa, the leader of this particular community, we learn about the menace posed by mining companies, and the lack of protection – more like the opposite – by Brazilian government. He says local dignitaries overuse the word ‘important’ in their pro-mining speeches, while ignoring the struggle for their cultural and overall survival. We then understand the Yanomami’s struggle to preserve and protect their land is a fight to protect every land and a call for us to realize we are, as one of them states, the forest itself.