Brazilian Indians fight biofuel boom at Venice film festival

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Fiction and fantasy gave way to harsh reality on Monday at the Venice film festival, with “BirdWatchers exposing the plight of Brazil s Guarani Indians in the face of the biofuels boom.

“The economic potential of agriculture is one of the greatest threats to the Guaranis’ land claims, said Marco Bechis, the Argentine-Italian director of the first political film screened at this year s festival.

“Land is always a problem between whites and the indigenous peoples, Bechis, 53, told a news conference. “The Guarani-Kaiowa survived one of the biggest genocides of history. The Conquest continues.

“We didn t invent very much at all, he added. “Our scriptwriters just put it into film form.

Eliane Juca De Silva, a Guarani schoolteacher in the cast of mainly non-actors, said: “What you see in the film is true. Our forest was full of trees that are no longer there.

Choking back tears, she added: “It is important for you to understand this is the plain truth of the Guarani. We want our customs to be respected just as yours are. I am proud of our people.

More than 230 Guarani who had never acted before were involved in the making of “BirdWatchers, which is among 21 films in competition for the festival s coveted Golden Lion to be awarded Saturday.

It dramatizes a rebellion led by tribal chief Ambrosio Vilhava on a vast plantation where huge swathes of forest have been cut down to grow sugar cane in the western state of Mato Grosso, which literally means “thick forest.

By law, developers were allowed to cut down up to 80 percent of the forest on their land, Bechis said.

“On average they left only two percent. Just take away what shouldn t have been deforested and give it back to the Guarani, he said, estimating the area at around 700,000 hectares (1.75 million acres).

“BirdWatchers shows a community wavering between hope and despair, with many choosing suicide, especially among the young.

“There are suicides because there is no justice, Vilhava said. “Politicians and the justice system favor entrepreneurs investing billions. With this film I hope you will have a bird’s eye view of what is happening.

Brazil wants to become a leading exporter of ethanol, with ambitious plans to export 26 billion liters a year by 2010, according to Survival International, which campaigns for indigenous peoples worldwide.

“I hope this film will bring attention to the shocking plight of the Guarani, their acute land shortages, and the biofuels industry which threatens to make their problems even worse, said Survival International director Stephen Corry.

“BirdWatchers will be screened at the Rio de Janeiro film festival later this month before its general release in Brazil in December.

This week, another kind of reality visited Venice – “reality gambling in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“Vegas: Based on a True Story, directed by Iranian-American Amir Naderi, shows a working-class family duped into believing that a gangsters stash worth a million dollars is buried under their garden.

Behind the scenes, a “reality gambler has bet huge sums on their gullibility as they spend weeks digging up the garden for naught.

Turkish director Semih Kaplanoglu offered “Sut (Milk), a look at the tug-of-war between tradition and modernity in today s Turkey. Everyone has been a Yusuf at one time or another, someone living a dilemma, said Melih Selcuk of his part in the film, which highlighted the intense mother-son bond in traditional Turkish society.

Meanwhile, almost near the end of the 65th Mostra, front-running Japanese director Takeshi Kitano (“Achilles and the Tortoise ) has been overtaken by his compatriot Hayao Miyazaki in the critics’ sweepstakes, according to a tally of Italian press reviews.

Miyazaki’s latest animated children s fantasy “Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea was also a smash hit with a popular jury weighing in for Ciak, the Mostra s newsletter.

But overall, the festival has disappointed the critics so far. – AFP

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