The Green Inferno - described by Wikipedia as a 'cannibal horror-thriller film' about an 'idealistic group of student activists [who] travel from New York City to the Amazon to save a vanishing native tribe' - was shown at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in late June. What is it exactly the activists get up to? Reviews on Rotten Tomatoes provide some, if divergent, detail - 'to protest land developers who are decimating native populations', 'to stop rainforest demolition', to 'prevent a construction company from destroying an indigent (sic) tribe', 'to protest illegal clearcutting', 'to halt a natural gas dig' - and in an interview, the director, Eli Roth, has been reported as saying:
'I wrote about these student activists who want to save these un-contacted tribes in the Amazon. Which is happening now. These corporations with GPS looking for natural gasses go in, kick out the tribe - kill them or move them out of there. Then just destroy the village and take out the gas which is in the ground. So I wrote about these students that want to stop that. They chain themselves to trees and protest and stream it and hash-tag, and it works. It actually shuts down the operation. Then on their way home, their plane crashes. And the very people they save are like "Ah, food - that's great!" It's like a free lunch, and they are brought back into the fold of absolutely barbaric, primitive man. People that have had no contact with the outside world.'
Oh dear. Yet more pejorative nonsense about indigenous peoples in the Amazon entering mainstream culture. As a young indigenous Yaminahua woman living along the River Yurua in south-east Peru recently put it to me after I had explained the gist of the film, 'People who watch it will think we're like that.'
The Green Inferno is due to be released in the USA next month. Don't think I don't have a sense of humour or understand that directors want to thrill and win viewers, but here - without having yet seen the film, going by the quote above, from Peru, from someone who for several years has conducted research, written articles and reports, and spoken publicly about indigenous peoples living in 'voluntary isolation' in the remotest parts of the Peruvian Amazon in an attempt to ensure their rights and territories are recognized and respected - are a number of questions for Roth:
1 Do you think indigenous peoples in the Peruvian Amazon would eat a group of Americans? Do you think that 'un-contacted tribes', as you have been reported to call them, in particular would eat a group of Americans? If the answer is yes to either of these questions, can you explain why you think that?
2 Are you aware that of the 15-20 indigenous peoples in 'voluntary isolation' - as Peruvian law calls indigenous peoples who have little or no regular contact - in the Peruvian Amazon no case of any of them eating anyone has ever been documented?
3 Are you concerned that members of the public who watch The Green Inferno will think that indigenous peoples - or indigenous peoples in 'voluntary isolation' in particular - in the Peruvian Amazon are cannibals, and would eat a group of Americans or other foreigners if they met them?
4 Are you concerned that The Green Inferno will encourage, or reinforce existing, pejorative stereotypes of indigenous peoples in the Amazon?
5 Are you aware that a group of Americans would pose a far bigger danger to an 'un-contacted tribe', as you have been reported to call them, in the Amazon than the other way around, given the latter's lack of immunological defences and the ease with which potentially fatal diseases and epidemics can be transmitted and then spread among them if some kind of contact, no matter how brief, is made?
6 The biggest danger currently posed by gas companies to indigenous peoples in 'voluntary isolation' in the Peruvian Amazon is an international consortium - in which an American company, Hunt Oil, plays a fundamental role - exploiting gas fields to the north and south of the River Camisea, and which has very recently been given the green light by Peru's government to expand its operations. Peru, gas, a remote 'tribe'. . . Did you have the Camisea gas project, as operations there are known, in mind when you conceived and shot The Green Inferno?
7 Are you aware that, while indigenous peoples in 'voluntary isolation' in the Peruvian Amazon are severely threatened by gas companies as well as oil companies, loggers, drugs traffickers, missionaries, the government and assorted others, Peruvian civil society has succeeded in making a number of serious advances that have contributed to protecting their rights and territories? These advances - mainly made by Peru's indigenous organizations, often supported by Peruvian and/or international allies - include the establishment of five reserves covering more than 2.5 million hectares, proposals for another five reserves that would cover 3.9 million hectares, the construction of control posts intended to protect the reserves, the training of 'agentes de proteccion' to work in the control posts, and the passing of a law purportedly to protect their rights and territories, as well as the publication of books and countless reports, articles and press releases, and, just recently, even a film.
8 In an interview published in March 2013 you are reported as saying, when talking about shooting The Green Inferno in a village in the Peruvian Amazon, 'We've completely polluted the social system and f*cked them up.' Do you stand by that statement? What kind of responsibilities do you think a filmmaker has when working with indigenous peoples or in locations like the Amazon?