The Last Forest


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Last Forest
"Bolognesi achieves a bracing hybrid that changes the usual dynamic between documentary viewer and subject." | Photo: Pedro J Márquez

Documentarian Luiz Bolognesi previously considered the situation faced by the indigenous peoples of Brazil's Amazon basin in his 2018 Ex-Shaman and he returns to the theme for his latest film. The Last Forest doesn't just invite us to look at his subjects, the Yanomami tribe, but gives them distinct agency as Bolognesi not only captures their day-to-day comings and goings in the expected observational style but also films them as they act out some of their traditional stories, including their creation beliefs. He worked on these elements with shaman Davi Kopenawa Yanomami - who is an active and world-renowned spokesman for the tribe and who is also seen venturing into what the Yanomami would consider "white people's territory" in order to engage with them over the problems his people are up against.

These threats are manifold, and don't just include the traditional dangers like snakes, which must be scoured for in a river before children can bathe, or jaguar that might have led to the disappearance of one of their hunters but also the all together more wide-reaching threat of gold prospecting and mining, which brings mercury poisoning and environmental destruction in its wake. "A shotgun won't feed you," Davi tells one of the younger members of the tribe but there is an acknowledgement that the goods and promises of the white people can prove enticing, although the tribe see the picture in the round, noting that those who work for the mining companies are, themselves, treated like a sort of chattel, overworked and underpaid.

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By mixing the footage of hunting and ritual with more constructed elements of elaborate storytelling, centring on tales of two brothers, a water goddess  and "the smoke of disease" which was buried with ore in the ground, Bolognesi achieves a bracing hybrid that changes the usual dynamic between documentary viewer and subject. Rather than asking us simply to feel for the precarious existence of the tribe, it encourages us to engage more fully with Yanomami culture. The stories, like so many traditional myths the world over, are a reminder of how similar creation tales across cultures can be and a nudge to consider our shared human need for an experience of storytelling even if it happens in very different settings.

Beyond the cerebral content, the footage, shot by Pedro J Marquez, captures everything from emancipation in action - as the women talk about selling their woven baskets in order to have income independent to the men - to the beauty of the tribe's territory, whether it's the Amazon seen from above or the tribe chatting in the flickering firelight at night, while shocking stills photography reminds us of the existential threat being faced.

Reviewed on: 04 Mar 2021
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In powerful images, alternating between documentary observation and staged sequences, and dense soundscapes, Luiz Bolognesi documents the Indigenous community of the Yanomami and depicts their threatened natural environment in the Amazon rainforest.

Director: Luiz Bolognesi

Writer: Luiz Bolognesi, Davi Kopenawa

Starring: Davi Kopenawa, Davi Kopenawa

Year: 2021

Runtime: 74 minutes

Country: Brazil

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