Hot Docs

We Are Guardians Review: The Rainforest’s Protectors

Hot Docs 2023

4 mins read

We Are Guardians
(Brazil/USA, 85 min.)
Dir. Edivan Guajajara, Chelsea Greene, Rob Grobman
Programme: Special Presentations (World Premiere)

We Are Guardians provides compelling insights into the dire situation in the Brazilian rainforests. Deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate. This gripping doc doesn’t pretend to present a comprehensive overview of the various and often conflicting interests in this problematic situation, although it does create a context. That proves to be its great strength. Instead, it is more character driven, an effective strategy that pulls the viewer into the perspectives of the most vulnerable, and most determined, people in this struggle.

Directed by Indigenous activist Edivan Guajajara and environmental filmmakers Chelsea Greene and Rob Grobman, We Are Guardians focuses on a handful of individuals. Some of their concerns are shared but others are conflicting. What’s crucial is that the film illuminates larger forces such as the country’s internal greed and the various forms of worldwide corruption that affect them and often seem insurmountable.

The film follows Indigenous guardian of the forest, Marçal Guajajara, and activist Puyr Tembé as they fight to protect their homes and ancestral way of life within the rainforests. The point of view becomes more complicated as viewers get to know more about an illegal logger struggling to make ends meet. Forced to work at a young age due to his poverty-stricken circumstances he feels that his lack of education gives him no other means to survive. The film also includes a landowner’s cogent perspective as one who is dedicated to preserving the rich ecosystem within his land. With the illegal invasions into his territory, he continually seeks action from local authorities but to no avail.

The filmmakers display an impressive formal agility as they juggle the different points of view and balance these with diverse visual styles. With an observational throughline that provides a concentrated focus on individuals, We Are Guardians remains flexible enough to include the wider forces at play. It efficiently blends in graphics and archival footage to showcase the government corruption and racist attitudes within Brazil that worsened since Jair Bolsonaro’s election in 2019 while also exposing the worldwide forces feeding the need to destroy these protected areas either through illegal logging or cattle ranching.

The filmmakers make it clear that Indigenous communities living within the rainforest are the most affected by this struggle and lead the fight since not many others will. Beyond the politics, the filmmakers take the time to weave in moments from Guajajara’s and Tembé’s daily lives, moments with family, moments of tranquility that define life in the forests. This process creates an enticing shift in this doc’s rhythm, one that efficiently contrasts with their struggles outside their communities. Shots of the majestic beauty of nature add to the film’s intricate structure and further its effect on the viewer.

We Are Guardians is haunting, a potent reminder of how some have no choice but to fight the good fight despite the odds. It is ultimately a call to action and a plea to the global community to join in. This doc not only explores the ongoing threat to Indigenous ways of life but also successfully highlights how the deforestation within Brazil has already affected the worldwide climate crisis. To the film’s credit, there’s nothing didactic here: the filmmakers display a loving, caring approach that invites others to pay attention and join in the struggle.

We Are Guardians screened at Hot Docs 2023.

Get more coverage from this year’s festival here.

Barbara is co-host/co-producer of Frameline who joined during its CKLN days. As a freelance writer and film critic for the past 30 years, she has contributed to numerous dailies and magazines including The Globe and Mail, The Canadian Film Encyclopedia, Box Office Magazine as well as to several books. A veteran of the Canadian film industry, Barbara has worked in many key areas including distribution and programming, and has also served on various festival juries

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