Marco Bechis

Birdwatchers

© Pandora Film Marco Bechis, Birdwatchers, 2008, Filmstill © Pandora FilmThe film Birdwatchers begins with a bird’s eye perspective: the camera flies over a tropical rain forest, a dense jungle of rich green through which a broad river flows. At the end of the story a swathe of jungle is shown again, but this time the landscape abruptly becomes an immense area of cleared forest. All that catches the eye in the midst of this dreary brown and furrowed wasteland is a single tree – which seems like the last survivor of an extinct species.

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Trailer Birdwatchers Marco Bechis, Birdwatchers, 2008, Filmstill © Pandora Film

The destruction of the tropical rain forests is one of the central themes in the climate crisis debate. The focus is particularly on the Amazon, which as the world’s largest tropical primeval forest acts as the “green lung” of our planet. Deforestation continues there at breathtaking pace – partly so as to be able to grow gigantic quantities of soy for intensive livestock farming in Europe and elsewhere. It is not only that the diversity of plant and animal species is being ruthlessly exploited; the indigenous peoples are also among the victims of this profit-driven mentality which disguises itself as technological “progress”.

Marco Bechis, Birdwatchers, 2008, Filmstill © Pandora FilmBirdwatchers tells the story of a group of Guaraní-Kaiowá Indians who are eking out a miserable existence in a reserve in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. In the opening scene, they station themselves, adorned in war paint, on the banks of a river in the forest just as a boat containing birdwatching tourists comes by. No sooner have they shot a few arrows into the water, they head straight for a pick-up truck, pull on t-shirts and get paid the promised wage for their folkloristic display. When two young Guaraní women hang themselves from trees in the forest, this is the final straw for their frustrated family. They leave the reserve and return to the nearby land of their ancestors where they erect huts made of wood and plastic sheets. The land, however, has been in the hands of white landowners for 60 years, so conflicts break out immediately.

Marco Bechis, Birdwatchers, 2008, Filmstill © Pandora FilmBorn in Chile and raised in Argentina, the director Marco Bechis is known for his political films like Garaje Olimpo (1999; English title: Olympic Garage). His film Birdwatchers, which is based on extensive local research and in which he worked with amateur actors, positions itself squarely on the side of the native inhabitants, without romanticizing them as “noble savages” or presenting the situation purely in black and white terms. The personal relationship between the Guaraní-Kaiowá, the landowner’s family and the farm hands is full of ambivalence. Unlike in many other films, the Indians in Birdwatchers are not sideline characters, but play centre stage. This changed perspective is one of the special features of this visually expressive, sensual and precisely observed film. The story of conflicts between Indians, landowners and their henchmen is very typical of the daily drama that international audiences know as the “destruction of the rain forest”.

Bettina Bremme
is a freelance journalist and author, and works for the Goethe-Institut Barcelona

Translation: Chris Cave
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V. 2009

    Biography

    © Pandora Film
    Marco Bechis (*1955 in Santiago/Chile) is a film director and screenplay writer. Raised in Buenos Aires/Argentina, he was arrested and tortured when the military dictatorship came to power in 1977, prompting him to emigrate to Italy later that same year. From 1981, Bechis studied at the Albedo Film Academy in Milan. In 1982, he presented his first 40-minute film, entitled Mi sembra d'averlo gia' visto. He achieved his breakthrough in 1991 with his feature film debut Alambrado. His film Olympic Garage (1999), in which a student is abducted by the secret police during the Argentinian military dictatorship, won 17 international film and festival prizes. In 2001, Bechis once again focused on how to come to terms with the past, in Figli/Hijos. The film Birdwatchers was nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2008. Marco Bechis lives in Milan.