When Maria Elena Romero first met the families of Ze Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espirito Santo, it was during the funeral of the murdered rainforest activists. Here she explains how making The Crying Forest provided the opportunity to revisit them as they fought for justice and found some sense of peace and comfort in their shared grief.
My connection to the Ze Claudio and Maria story began during their funeral. I was the camera person filming the news stories about their deaths for the Al Jazeera correspondent Gabriel Elizondo.
When I arrived at the Maraba home where the funeral was being held, I was shocked by the scene. The people mourning Ze Claudio and Maria were humble people; they were mourning in silence and looked at the bodies in disbelief. A woman touched Maria's forehead very softly and a man touched Ze Claudio's hands. I understood how much this loss meant to them.
Meanwhile, the Amazon Forest was crying along with the friends and family members: Ze Claudio had said he was a son of the forest and the trees he defended were his beloved siblings. Friends and family knew that they would never hear Ze Claudio or Maria's voice again, they would never see them drying Amazon nuts in their backyard or producing crafts with the natural fabrics they found in the forest. It was hard to see the scene that I had to capture in video.
Claudelice, Ze Claudio's, younger sister, was putting on a brave face. People looked to her for comfort. Her phone was ringing non-stop as journalists requested interviews or information. When we sat down and interviewed her that day, Claudelice said that she would find it impossible to look at the forest again and not see her brother and sister-in-law. She was proud of the couple's fight to protect the jungle settlement where they had lived. But she had also been left deeply scared by the image of their lifeless bodies she had witnessed the previous day.
In spite of this pain, she knew that she had to appeal for justice. So a vigil and march in protest against the killings were held and Claudelice went back to the jungle settlement where the couple had lived and brought activists and government representatives. I came to see her as a very passionate woman with no fear of speaking up.
The scenes I witnessed during the funeral and burial were raw, hard to watch. The family's loss was incalculable. Two families had been left behind; how would they move on? They had lost everything they knew as theirs - a brother, a sister, a friend; they had lost their homes and their future as they had envisioned it.
But for me it was time to leave. Three days, I knew, was a very short period of time to spend in Maraba. Despite all of our efforts, we were only portraying the families' immediate suffering, we were only touching the surface. There were still many questions left unanswered.
Making The Crying Forest took me back to revisit the families and allowed me to follow up on their lives. This was an opportunity to show the wider issues that had brought about the killings and a chance to search for an answer as to why Ze Claudio Ribeiro and Maria do Espirito Santo had been murdered in cold blood.
Claudelice and Laisa, Maria's sister, opened their lives to us and made the film possible. I sensed they had found strength in the fight for justice and in their efforts to expose the forces behind the destruction of the Amazon. We heard them and tried to piece together a wider picture of the Amazon reality reflected in The Crying Forest.
I also sensed that on a personal level these two brave women were bonded by a love lost. I sensed that they had found comfort in each other and talking about the future. I will never forget their laughter as we spent the last night of filming in Laisa's home. We were in the Amazon settlement where they used to live, close to Ze Claudio and Maria's home. This was the place where they could both find peace and comfort, where they had all of their material belongings and their spiritual roots.
After dinner, we walked to an open field next to the home. We could hear that the forest was alive, we could see the stars in the sky. Claudelice and Laisa felt far from danger; they felt at peace. I felt I needed to look at the stars for a while and let the moment sink in. We stayed there for a moment breathing silently and thinking that Ze and Maria continued to live on in this space.
Maria Elena Romero, based in Sao Paulo, is a Colombian-born video journalist/producer who works frequently with Al Jazeera English. Follow her on Twitter @MarBrazil.