‘The Territory’ Protagonist Bitaté On His Fight To Save His Homeland – Deadline
For young Bitaté Uru Eu Wau Wau, the distant chattering of a buzzsaw sends an ominous signal. It’s the sound of his people’s land in the Brazilian rainforest being chewed up by illegal invaders.
The Oscar-shortlisted documentary The Territory, directed by Alex Pritz, shows how Bitaté and members of his Indigenous tribe, the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau, are attempting to fend off loggers, miners and squatters devouring huge tracts of the Amazon. Among their only means of defense is media attention to their plight. Without it, their territory will continue to disappear.
Bitaté spoke with us through an interpreter from an Uru village in Brazil’s state of Rondônia.
DEADLINE: What has it been like for you to be the protagonist of an Oscar-contending documentary that’s been seen around the world?
BITATÉ URU WAU WAU: I feel honored. It brings to the forefront the fight of my people. It displays for the world the situation we live in. We know that the challenge that we face — that we have always faced in our territory — is being represented now to the world beyond Brazil. People are talking about it. So, I feel very good about that.
DEADLINE: When the filmmakers first approached you about making a documentary, what were your thoughts? And how did you become convinced they would tell your story along with the story of the Uru in a way that would do justice to you?
BITATÉ: At first, it was a big thing for us to digest: Americans coming — what do they want to do here? Throughout the colonization decades, we learned to be greatly concerned about this. And we wanted to know, what do they want from us? So, we had a number of conversations, three sit-downs where we talked with Alex [Pritz], with the producer Gabriel [Uchida], and our community. And then we decided, let’s see what happens as we move forward with this.
We began to understand that it was a chance for us to demonstrate our culture and the work that we do. I was able to overcome the resistance from my own community, from my people… We thought a lot about how we can show the reality of our people and of this territory. The Territory does a good job of representing who the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau people are.
DEADLINE: Can you describe the emotions you feel when you see parts of Uru territory consumed by these outsiders — the miners, the loggers, the illegal settlers?
BITATÉ: Sad. We feel very sad. We see people come in tearing down all of our forests that we have fought to protect… We know [invaders] are going to come in and they’re going to kill our territory. They’re going to burn it. They’re going to take the timber out of it. And that makes us very sad as Indigenous peoples. We have fought so much to protect our territory, to keep it in good shape. So, it’s sad to see our home place deforested the way it is. It’s very sad.
DEADLINE: Pritz told us the Uru urged him and his filmmaking team to seek out the land grabbers to interview them as well. Why was that important to you?
BITATÉ: We thought it was important to know how the other side thinks, what’s going through their minds… These are issues we live with every day, and these are the things that happen. And we want it to be told that way.
DEADLINE: You and other members of the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau became part of the filmmaking process, learning to use cameras and drones. What was that like?
BITATÉ: At first, we thought we were going to do some filming for them, but they’re not going to use it. And then, we got more and more feedback from them and we began to improve our abilities. And we understood this is on behalf of all Indigenous communities, all the Indigenous peoples. So, it was important for us to tackle the challenge of learning the technology. Technology, as I always say, is our weapon in today’s world. Learning all the different aspects of technology so that we could promote knowledge about the struggle we have here and about the reality that we live in, that was important to us.
DEADLINE: How much have you learned about filmmaking during the last few years of your involvement in making The Territory?
BITATÉ: I think I learned a lot. I was a photographer already. I’ve always liked taking photos, and Tangãi [Uru Eu Wau Wau] also has grown a lot in filmmaking, and he films a lot throughout our territory, and that has helped both of us to grow. I have seen a great increase in my confidence in doing this kind of work. And I have so much confidence that I’m able to teach others to do it. I want to show the younger ones how to record, how a camera works and how to use drones also. We’re doing some good filming with drones, so my confidence is growing. I feel strengthened in that.
DEADLINE: How big a difference does it make to you and the Uru to be able to tell your own story with video instead of relying on outsiders?
BITATÉ: Moving forward, I believe we now can tell our own story without needing other people. We have the equipment to do it. We have enough people to tell the story. At the beginning, we didn’t know that for sure. We didn’t think that we would fit the bill. We thought that we would have a little part and give a few tips about this and that. But today, I say, no, our people can do this work without needing outsiders. Alex and his team played a fundamental role in equipping us so that we might be able to keep growing. And I’m very happy knowing we’ll be able to create the next storytelling about our people and history. I envision things that I can do with my people. We now know what it means to have a central role in a production. I think we can do this on our own now.
DEADLINE: How optimistic or pessimistic do you feel about the future of the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau?
BITATÉ: A bit of both — optimistic and pessimistic. Especially with these invasions, we have mixed feelings. But I think that maybe over the past four years, I’ve become more optimistic. With the next four years, we have this new government [under Brazilian President Lula da Silva]. We have [the Brazilian government agency] FUNAI, the National Foundation for Indians, [which] is very pro-Indigenous peoples. I will continue to be optimistic for now. But I will always be a bit ambivalent on that, feeling pessimistic and optimistic at different times. We live on a reservation, and we have these invasions. So, we have to balance both of those feelings.
DEADLINE: I understand the Uru are building an audio-visual center to promote the study of filmmaking.
BITATÉ: We hope that by February it will be ready for use… We hope that not only our people, but other Indigenous communities will be able to come in and benefit from this… people from other [Brazilian] states, from other places, can come here to learn about our territory and learn something about filmmaking. We feel a lot of gratitude for all that’s being done. There are very few people who get the visibility that The Territory is bringing to us. If we can use The Territory as a documentary that communicates the situation of [the Uru], we want more and more of our peoples to have that opportunity.
DEADLINE: What can people do to support you and the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau?
BITATÉ: We want to expose people to our reality so that our people can then see improvements in the life we live here; the situations we face. I also believe it’s important to get the word out about the documentary so that people will watch it and join the impact campaign on our website. That’s a way that they can go to the site and strengthen us and support us and increase their awareness of all that we are doing. We are also calling on the government of Brazil to protect all of our regions and our communities. We need help not only here in my community, but throughout all of our Indigenous territories.
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