The Territory (2022)

86 min. Director: Alex Pritz.


In the efficient and consistently engrossing 84 minutes of The Territory, first time feature filmmaker Alex Pritz illuminates the terrible plight of Brazil's Indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people, a worrisome situation with implications for all of humanity. That's principally true because the Uru-eu-wau-wau live in Rondônia, a province in the Amazon rainforest. Encroachment threatens the Uru-eu-wau-wau's entire way of life and, as the rainforest is "the heart of the world," or perhaps more accurately, the pumping lungs of the planet, everyone had better pay attention, even the xenophobes who helped to get Jair Bolsonaro elected President of Brazil.

That election is part of the fabric of Pritz's story, which covers a period between 2018 and 2021. We're introduced to the film's protagonist (and poster model) Bitaté Uru-eu-wau-wau when he is 18 going on 19. By film's end, he's the 20-year-old leader of the Uru-eu-wau-wau, having accepted the mantle of protecting his people's future and bridging the gap of tradition and the modern technologies that can amplify their story beyond the forest's borders.

The film's opening title card concisely sets the stage: “In the 1980s, the Brazilian government first contacted the Indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people. From a population of thousands, fewer than 200 remain today. The Uru-eu-wau-wau territory is now an island of rainforest surrounded by farms.” What follows grows steadily more horrifying as trees lose their lives, human blood and tears are shed, and the Uru-eu-wau-wau take up arms (bows and arrows) to protect their territory. Bolsonaro's election instantly ups the odds of violent conflict with invaders, whose numbers double under the new regime.

The Association of Rural Producers of Rio Bonito also springs up in 2018, with a President who insists on working within the law even as rogue “invaders” flout it and make comments like “this land is mine.” We see the invaders cut down trees and set forest fires; unseen are the leaders of Big Agribusiness, which environmentalists credibly claim to be pulling strings to hasten the clearing of indigenous land (this omission and the general haste of the film at times suggest the bigger picture that a longer run time could have accommodated). Despite all the bad news, there's inspiration to be found in the Uru-eu-wau-wau's communal response and the demonstrably strong leadership (and great potential) of Bitaté.