Thursday, June 29, 2006

Joaquin Phoenix in Acre

Acrean blogger Altino Machado writes here about a planned visit in August by Joaquin Phoenix, best actor nominee in last year's Oscars and Golden Globe winner for his portrayal of Johnny Cash.

Here's my translation:

“The American actor Joaquin Phoenix will spend the 14th and 15th of August in the company of the Yawanawá, on the Indigenous Lands of the Rio Gregório, in Tarauacá (Acre), in the southwestern Brazilian Amazon.

He was one of the supporters of the production of the film Yawa – Story of the Yawanawa.

The environmental activist Heart Phoenix, the actor’s mother, met the Yawanawá leaders in 2004, at the documentary’s premiere in San Francisco.

The Phoenix family was introduced to the tribe by the Canadian Joshua Sage [Thome], who directed Yawa in partnership with the Yawanawá.”

As Machado says, Phoenix helped bankroll the production of the 1-hour documentary Yawa: Story of the Yawanawa (see website here), although it's not clear how that happened if he connected with the production group at the film's debut, as Machado writes.

The film, which I have yet to see, apparently documents the first Yawanawa cultural festival called "Yawa," held in 2002. The festival, according to a statement by a couple of Yawanawa published earlier in Machado's blog, "was a rebirth and a rediscovery as a people with a culture, an identity, and a spirituality alive in the 21st century."

The above-linked site to the film is replete with exotic discourse: emphasizing the physical remoteness of the group helps create them as an extreme other, apart from everything we know--and indeed, a photo caption describes the film crew's arrival as "like entering another world."

Given the historical connection of the Yawanawa with practices like drinking ayahuasca and using the exudate of the frog Phyllomedusa bicolor, one cannot help wondering, perhaps uncharitably, if the filmmakers (who are from British Columbia, Canada's cannabis capital, after all) were drawn to the Yawanawa partly for this reason. Will Joaquin Phoenix also drink uni with the Yawanawa? I suppose that's mainly his (and their) business.

But the thought reminds me of Sting, another famous person who sought both spiritual insight and humanitarian intervention in the Amazon. As he learned after some of the Kayapo whom he was helping were denounced for selling natural resources on Indian lands to enhance their lifestyles, things are more complicated than they may appear. One does not learn, for example, on the Yawa website, that the group has been in steady contact with non-Indians for over a century, nor that the festival the film documents is anything but a static repetition of an ancient an unaltered tradition. In fact, one of the current Yawanawa leaders speaks decent English and is married to a Mexican anthropologist trained in the United States.

Nothing wrong with any of that, of course--it's a sign of the power of the nostalgia for the primitive that revealing such things easily takes on shades of expose. But it's important to see beyond our own longings for authenticity and to understand the role of history in the revitalizations taking place among indigenous peoples, and the ways that the taken-for-granted boundaries of "race" and ethnicity, country and town, tradition and modernity, are blurred by those projects. And like I said, I haven't seen the film yet.


Blogger Altino Machado said...

Grato pela referência. Bom trabalho.

11:15 PM  

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