Q&A with #IWMFGrantees Joana Moncau and Elpida Nikou
The Fund for Women Journalists grantees’ new documentary “Amazon Messengers” shows the indigenous Munduruku people’s resistance to destruction and deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.
IWMF: What led you to this story? How have your journalistic backgrounds prepared you to cover this issue?
Joana and Elpida: For more than 10 years we have been covering human rights, socio-environmental issues and indigenous populations in Brazil and several other countries. Currently, we both form part of the audiovisual cooperative Muzungu Productions.
Elpida has worked on numerous news programs, reportages and short documentaries in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America for Al Jazeera, National Geographic, The New York Times, Telesur and many others. And Joana has covered many topics related to indigenous populations in Brazil for media such as Repórter Brasil, Agência Pública, Le Monde Diplomatique Brasil, AJ+ among others. This experience helped us to cover this topic.
You worked closely with the Munduruku videography team on this project. What was valuable about working alongside the Munduruku community to tell their story?
Working in partnership with Coletivo Audiovisual Munduruku Daje Kapap Eypi was essential for the documentary we made. This collective has been recording the struggle of the Munduruku people since 2015 and has a vast and valuable archive of images. These images give strength to the denunciations made by the Munduruku people and to what these people are willing to face in their resistance. They also give strength to our documentary. As Aldira Akai, one of the members of the audiovisual collective, put it well:
“People no longer believe only in people’s words, they believe in what they see”.
What were the biggest challenges you faced while reporting?
The main challenges were access to the territory, due to the pandemic, and the safety of the leaders that we were initially going to follow because of the threats they have been suffering. With the beginning of the pandemic and the first years of Bolsonaro’s government, the situation has changed a lot.
President Bolsonaro’s favorable nods to the invaders of indigenous lands have raised the threats to leaders who fight these illegal activities to an unprecedented level.
Miners, loggers, land grabbers who invade indigenous territories have never felt so safe, according to reports from the very leaders who face these practices.
To preserve the safety of these leaders, we shifted the focus of our documentary to the Munduruku Daje Kapap Eypi Audiovisual Collective. Recording the daily life of the audiovisual collective working in its community and reviewing its archive images was no major challenge. However, it is worth mentioning that the Munduruku Audiovisual Collective exposed itself to numerous risk situations when recording the mobilizations of the Munduruku people to expel invaders — miners and loggers — from their territories, images that were used in our documentary.
What surprised you most about this story? Were there any unexpected narratives that arose during filming?
What surprised me the most was the strength and determination of these three young women who make up the Munduruku Daje Kapap Eypi Audiovisual Collective. They are determined to strengthen this front of action and are clear about the importance of what they do.
Straight from the heart of the Amazon rainforest, in a community of fewer than 200 people, they manage to echo the denunciations and the voice of the leaders of their people to the world. The potential and relevance of this collective, touched by the new generation, is admirable and positively surprising.
How does this documentary continue the fight for indigenous sovereignty and land rights in Brazil? What happens next for these communities?
The struggle of indigenous peoples in defense of the territory and the Amazon rainforest in Brazil is uninterrupted and is currently the main front of resistance to deforestation and large projects that could destroy the Amazon and its peoples.
The rights that Indigenous peoples from all regions of Brazil, not just the Amazon, had won are being harshly threatened in Congress.
And, in the territory, they are suffering more and more pressure. These peoples are opening other fronts to defend themselves, such as communication.
Our documentary helps to show the resistance of one of these peoples, the Munduruku people, as well as the struggle in the territory and the heroic effort of the Munduruku audiovisual collective to make denouncements that only those who are in the territory can make. From this communication work, the Munduruku obtain allies and support, essential for their resistance.
In the current political context that we are experiencing in Brazil, continuing to strengthen these initiatives will be increasingly important and the international community has a fundamental role to play in supporting these initiatives and passing on these complaints.