At first, I was excited. It’s not every day that an anthropological documentary drops on Netflix. “First Contact: Lost Tribe of the Amazon” started streaming online recently and while the title gave me pause because it sounds like something straight out of the 60s I had to give it a watch.
“First Contact” does feel like it’s something straight out of the sixties, down to the British narrator who waxes poetic on the virtues of simple living and the misrepresentation that this is first contact at all. As the title explains, the anthropologists and filmmakers are viewing and reflecting on a “first contact” encounter with members of the Sapanawa tribe who fled colonial death squads in Peru in 2014. The narrator informs us that this encounter became a viral video success on YouTube. However, interviews with Xina, the primary informant, indicate that he has had plenty of “contact” already. The film endeavors to dig into the conflict occurring between the “civilized world” and “uncontacted tribes” in South America but fails to deliver on exposing the deeper structural problems that are fueling it.
It’s unfortunate that the film spends so much time on the moment of contact instead of the why. It also displays an overwhelmingly outdated and offensive perspective of tribes who have chosen to live in isolation by falling back on the same old tropes which simplify and infantilize indigenous people.
The most disappointing moments of “First Contact” comes in the last five or so minutes with an abrupt tonal shift that could have made for a much more responsible documentary.
“First Contact: Lost Tribe of the Amazon” premiered in February 2016 and is still streaming on Netflix.
Here is Survival International’s response to the film.