the fight for amazonia - director thomas wartmann, production manager joao valle
Filmmaker Thomas Wartmann, left, and his production manager Joao Valle [Photo: Nikolaus Tarouquella]
The Fight for Amazonia

Searching for the ‘heroes’ of the Amazon

Tired of hearing only about the destruction of the rainforests, filmmaker Thomas Wartmann found those who inspire hope.

By filmmaker Thomas Wartmann

The reason I made the series The Fight for Amazonia is simply because I was fed up with films which only show the destruction of the earth’s lung and leave the audience helpless and hopeless. I was tired of reading about how many hectares of rainforests are chopped down every hour. Instead, I wanted to show people that they can take up the fight for the Amazon and for the world’s climate, regardless of how bad the situation already is.

In preparing for the three films, I researched many different NGOs, their activities and different activists. I also spent some time in the vast Amazon area. The way I chose my protagonists was by sympathy. It is very important to me to have ‘heroes’ the audience will like, because that will open their hearts.

‘The forgotten ones’

The first protagonist was easy to find. Judge Sueli Pini in Macapá is a warm, loving lady who – due to her outstanding work – has already been suggested for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Her fight for the Amazon is mainly for the people who live deep in the forest and have no legal support – the people she calls “the forgotten ones”.

Judge Pini uses the ‘justice boat’ to bring justice and medical help to those without the means to take their legal, medical or social problems to the bigger towns.

It was immediately clear to me that we would have a strong story if we could accompany her on one of those boat trips up the river.

Driven by conviction

I found the second protagonist, Joao Fortes, in Rio de Janeiro.

He belongs to the small group of influential businessmen who are driven by the conviction that it makes more sense to fight for a better world than to just make more profit.

Fortes was a top executive in one of the biggest construction companies in Brazil when he decided to use his connections and management skills for the good of the people of the rainforest – people like the Ashaninka Indians.

The Ashaninka Indians live deep in the jungle, along the border between Brazil and Peru, and face the constant threat posed by loggers from Peru who come armed with rifles in order to steal the tribe’s precious timber.

The tribe had nothing more than bows and arrows with which to fight them off, until Fortes brought solar-powered internet deep into the forest.

Now the Ashaninka people can send emails requesting help from Brazilian army helicopters whenever they are threatened.

During filming we were lucky to witness the setting up of a communications network spanning more than 6,437 kilometres (4,000 miles) between the Ashaninka village and Rio de Janeiro.

The Wild Wild West

When I was shown a picture of Ana Rafaela D’Amico in an NGO office in Brasilia, I knew immediately that I had found my third protagonist.

At the age of 27, she is the director of one of the smallest yet most threatened national parks in Brazil. Forty per cent of the rainforest in Rondonia, the state in which part of the Campos Amazonicos National Park falls, has already been destroyed by loggers, poachers, drug smugglers and miners.

Those trying to fight the criminals, who it seems will not stop until the final tree has fallen, risk their lives. For a pretty and intelligent young woman like D’Amico the danger is all the greater.

I did not hesitate when I got the chance to go with her on a two-week patrol deep into the forest, protected by heavily-armed jungle police and federal agents.

For the few people who live in these remote areas without any telephones and very few roads, D’Amico’s efforts to save their environment are a huge threat.

When the settlers came here 20 to 30 years ago, the government encouraged them to destroy the forest and start cattle farms. Now they are being told that settling and farming in the national park is illegal, but how are they going to survive? For most of them crime is the only answer and the only way in which they can feed their children.

I will never forget when our heavily-armed convoy entered the small town of Guata, which is at the centre of illegal logging activities. Our first encounter was with a dead man on the roadside – shot an hour earlier in a dispute over a house pig. Guata, meaning ‘monkey’ in the local language, is known to have the highest number of contract killers in Brazil.

Normally there are dozens of illegal timber trucks parked along the main street. Although D’Amico’s mission was kept top secret, someone had blown the whistle. When we arrived there was not a single truck in town. The atmosphere was extremely hostile. The waiter who served us lunch in a small restaurant was one of the most wanted criminals in Brazil, but the police did not arrest him because they wanted to avoid any problems.

It was the Wild Wild West out there and there was more trouble ahead. An illegal settlement that D’Amico had destroyed in the middle of the national park a year before had been secretly rebuilt, with weapons and booby traps everywhere.

The situation appeared to be beyond hopeless. It seemed impossible to control such a huge area and there were more than enough reasons for D’Amico to give up.

I asked her about this and she answered calmly that this was not an option: “We must hope. When everyone does his part, we will succeed. The world needs Amazonia.”