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 It also displays an overwhelmingly outdated and offensive perspective of tribes who have chosen to live in isolation by falling back on the same old tropes which simplify and infantilize indigenous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.
The very last thing I want to do with this project is take advantage of the Huaorani because it has been a recurring theme in their interactions with most non-Huaorani. Since, I don’t have many outside anthropological observers to take a close look at my project design, I am taking a less than academic approach and doing my best to apply the anthropology I know in the most ethical way I can. Therefore, I have written a proposal for the communities’ lawyer to examine and pass on to the community leaders. There are going to be a lot of firsts in keeping this ethically above board, and this is the first. Do you think I’ve missed anything?
A proposal for filming a Huaorani community tour
The goal of this film is to promote Bameno’s and Bowanamo’s tourism business. I will be documenting our tour with a personal camcorder of my own and equipment that is more suited to official documentary filmmaking. There will be 3-4 people in my group (waiting on one to work out his schedule). I asking permission to film the jungle and the community to showcase what is unique about the Huaorani territory.
In addition to filming the environment I would also like put the face of the Huaorani communities at the forefront of the film. I would like to interview Huaorani men and women so that they can give their message to people who do not understand with the Intangible Zone must stay in possession of the Huaorani who live there.
Any Huaorani who does not wish to be filmed will not be. Any activities or ceremonies the Huaorani do not want filmed will not be. With the funds that I am raising to make this film, I hope there will be extra to give a larger community fee for this intrusion. Initially, the film will be posted on the Community Tour website, but I hope to be able to get it into independent film festivals as well which will show the Huaorani cause to even larger groups of people and they will help create pressure on the Ecuadorean. And since President Corea has claimed that he gave permission to the oil companies to drill in the Yasuni because international governments were not giving enough financial aid, viewers might even put pressure on their own governments to help prevent these companies to invade Huaorani territory.
As far as profits and royalties go, right of first refusal will go to the Huaorani though dealings with potential distributors may require further negotiation.
Please let me know of any concerns or changes you would like to make to this agreement.
Thank you for your consideration