Xingu – Berlinale 2012


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Director: Cao Hamburger
Cast: João Miguel (Claudio Villas Boas), Felipe Camargo (Orlando Villas Boas), Caio Blat (Leonardo Villas Boas), Maiarim Kaiabi (Prepori), Awakari Tumã Kaiabi (Pionim), Adana Kambeba (Kaiulu), Tapaié Waurá (Izaquiri), Totomai Yawalapiti (Guerreiro Kalapalo), Maria Flor (Marina)
Music: Beto Villares
Brazil, 2011

Spoiler alert. But this is history.

1943. Brazil undertakes “The March to the West,” a state-led project to settle and develop the nation’s hinterland. Three brothers – Orlando, Claudio, and Leonardo Villas-Bôas – join the project as peons, hiding their education, “seeking freedom in the wild.”

The brothers soon discover that the unoccupied territories have owners – starting with the Xingu, who launch a coordinated psycho-ops attack on the invaders, engaging them in a battle of nerves.

“They’re going to kill us, and we can’t kill them back…. Let’s get out of their land.”…
“We’re going to have to talk to them sooner or later.”

The brothers negotiate with the Xingu to achieve the goals of the Brazilian government, first to build an airstrip. But when half the population dies of an influenza epidemic brought by the whites, the brothers realize their true vocation and devote their lives to protecting the indigenous owners of the forests.

“We’ll be the poison and the antidote.”

Gaining celebrity in the forest, the “Villas-Bôas” are next sought out by the Caibi tribe, who are being massacred by rubber plantation owners. The germ of an idea for a national park emerges – a big piece of land to isolate Indians from contact with white people. At first, the Xingu don’t want other tribes. But the brothers win the Xingu over, arguing “We must work together.”

“Indians have never lived in borders, but this is the best bet.”

The Indians strike a bargain with the government, to help establish a military base in Cachibo Mountains in exchange for a large tract of land where whites cannot kill Indians. Betrayal ensues, necessitating the expulsion of white settlers from Indian lands by force. In the end, two million hectares, an area larger than Belgium, are set aside in 1961 – Parque Nacional Xingu (Xingu National Park), with the twin objectives of protecting the environment and the indigenous populations of the area. In 1984, Brazil ceded control of the park to the Indians.

May you see this film in a theater well suited to the spectacular cinematography and sound.

Berlinale Section: [Panorama Special]