Representation of amazonian nature in early 20th Century cinema (precisa de refinamento)

Trough narrative and aesthetics, movies can shape the audience’s perception about the Amazon Rainforest

Nature is an essential part of all forms of life on planet Earth. Trees growing dark green leaves are a symbol of life that humans have known of since the beginning of time. The mystery of nature is maximally seen when taking a deeper look into the Amazonian rainforest, which covers much of northwestern Brazil, extending into Colombia, Peru, and other parts of South America. The world’s largest tropical rainforest is home to thousands of rivers and wildlife that are the epitome of mystery.

The representation of Amazonian nature through film gives the audience an idea of the meaning of nature in the Amazon. Some of the most recognized Brazilian films that touch on the representation of nature include Matto Grosso (1931), No Paiz das Amazonas (1922), Iracema (1975), and Bye Bye Brazil (1980). These various films depict the Amazonian rainforest in ways that capture the beauty and reality of the modernization of nature over time.

Although the fundamental idea of what the Amazon truly is, is problematic and complex, it cannot simply be defined through a collection of famous fictional films. A closer examination of such films provides the audience with a slightly better understanding of how nature is represented in the Amazon. The diversity of life, cultures, nature, and animal species in the Amazon comes to life when an audience is able to visually see the bright and deep colors that are the heart of the Amazonian nature. One description of the Amazon by Haruki Murakami, a famous Japanese writer that focuses on themes of fiction and realism, depicts the beauty and impact that the rainforest has on its viewers:

Not just beautiful, though— the stars are like the trees in the forest, alive and breathing. And they’re watching me. – Haruki Murakami

Although being able to view the representation of nature through film is possible, there may be some differences that the audience are not able to see including the actuality of the modernization of the Amazon. Some films may not depict the actuality of the Amazon, but attempt to portray only the positives of the region and what it has to offer to the planet, including its resources. Modernization can mostly be seen through the representation of nature in various important films that depict the impact of the rubber industry.

A key portrayal of nature can be seen in two of the most recognized Brazilian films during the 20th century, Matto Grosso, The Great Brazilian Wilderness (1931) and No Paiz das Amazonas (1922). The representation of nature in both of these films displays the Amazon in a unique way that allows for the audience to visualize the enormity of the largest rainforest on the planet.

Matto Grosso, the Great Brazilian Wilderness (1932), directed by Frank R. Wilson, is a film that illustrates various aspects of the Amazon and Indigenous people through showcasing how their culture. Matto Grosso is often referred to as a hybrid film because of its portrayal as a documentary and inclusion of both fiction and nonfiction elements. Even considering issues of representation, the depiction of the Indigenous people in this film is known to be a pioneer in its field for presenting native peoples speaking in their own language. Yet, this film questions how the Amazon and native peoples have been represented, including issues surrounding language . Throughout the course of watching Matto Grosso, it appears that what Indigenous people are saying in response to the main actors is scripted.Individual Indigenous groups have their own languages that vary from others spoken in surrounding areas. An issue arises where “foreigners” believe they are doing the indigenous peoples a favor by trying to teach Indigenous people of the Amazon new things or bring knowledge, when this is in fact harming them.

This issue intertwines with the perspective of foreigners who are slowly attempting to take over the Bororo culture in the Matto Grosso state of Brazil. When individuals who are not native to the Amazon enter the land with the intention to bring outside knowledge to Indigenous people, this becomes a form of acculturation. Once outside knowledge is brought to Indigenous people, they slowly begin to lose contact with their own ideas and traditions, after fighting to keep them for so many years– which then leads to the deconstruction of their own personal beliefs and thought processes.

In contrast to the methods in which Matto Grosso portrayed the Amazon, Silvino Santos’ film, No Paiz das Amazonas (1922) captures the Amazon rainforest on camera and presents it in a way that allows for the viewer to form their own perspective on what is being illustrated on screen. A Brazilian documentary, No pais das amazonas, is one of the first films to capture the Amazon Rainforest on camera and present it to a large audience. Being that No Paiz das Amazonas is a silent film, this allows the viewer to create their own perspective on what they are seeing with their own eyes, instead of hearing a dialogue that may promote one specific perspective or message. The representation of the economic system of the Amazonian Indigenous peoples working in factories and production lines is also illustrated in this documentary to depict the modernization and industrialization of the time period.

The documentary “No Paiz das Amazonas” is fully available on YouTube. You can watch the movie by clicking here.

A main focus of this documentary film is to shed light on how the economic system works for the native Amazonians. The illustration of the factory workers and the assembly line shows the hard labor that the Indigenous peoples did. The incorporation of the rubber industry to the film was critical in understanding how Indigenous peoples of the Amazon dealt with this apparent invasion of the economy on their territory.

When comparing both films and their representations of nature in the Amazon, the audience should note how the development of cinema in Brazil and other parts of Latin America allowed for this representation to occur. According to the essay Early Cinema and Modernity in Latin America (2000) by Ana M. López , “Latin American modernity has been a global, intertextual experience, addressing impulses and models from abroad, in which every nation and region created, and creates, its own ways of playing with and at modernity.” A latter description of cinema as a “foreign import” raises the argument that film has been brought to Latin America to exploit the Amazon. This depiction of Latin America connects with the theme of diversity and complexity that the Amazon has within its roots that is present when examining the Amazon and its complex layers. The idea that modernity and diversity go hand in hand fuels the argument that modernization is inevitable for the Amazon. This introduction of modernity to the Amazon allows for its exploitation to occur which is soon illustrated through several Amazonian films.

The different point of views in both Matto Grosso and No Paiz das Amazonas are distinct interpretations of an Amazonian reality, allowing the audience to see the visual effects the films use through allegorical aspects.

The modernization of the Amazon, seen through these two films, leaves the audience with an everlasting impact and desire to bring awareness to ongoing exploitation. Spreading the realities of the dangers that the Amazon is currently facing to the world is of great importance during this age as it allows for others to become aware of what is going on in the lush rainforest. Some harsh realities that the Amazon has been exposed to in recent times includes the continuous burning of the trees, which impacts the animals and native peoples that live in the depths of the Amazon. Ultimately, the representation of nature in films is one of the most important aspects that needs to be shared because of its definitive power in combining the audiovisual with stark reality. Understanding how far the Amazon has come from the release of these two films shows that much has not truly changed in the rainforest as disruption has continued to occur in recent events.


Ashley Schrader is a graduate student at Florida State University.