Sundance Film Festival’s When Two Worlds Collide won the World Cinema documentary special jury award for best debut feature.
Conflicts over natural resources in the Amazon region have intensified in the past few decades, with indigenous peoples often facing encroachment of their ancestral lands from logging, mining, oil production and hydro dam construction. Sundance documentary When Two Worlds Collide provides an eloquent and detailed perspective on the impacts that legislative policies and resource extraction are having on Peru’s Amazon rainforest communities.
After the US signed a free trade agreement with Peru in 2006, the national congress passed a series of laws that eliminated indigenous resource rights to ancestral lands that were written into the nation’s constitution. Native groups, coordinated by Alberto Pizango of non-governmental organization AIDESEP, insisted that the government rescind the new legislation. Indigenous communities were already experiencing the adverse impacts of logging and oil production in the region and feared that an expansion of extractive industries would irreparably damage the rainforest habitat they depend on for survival. Native leaders also objected that the environmental destruction was inimical to their beliefs that the forest should be protected for the benefit of future generations. “The earth is borrowed,” Pizango noted, asserting their collective responsibility to safeguard communal heritage.
When the government of president Alan Garcia ignored their pleas, native groups staged a peaceful protest in 2009, occupying an oil storage facility and blockading roads in the Amazon sector. As their actions intensified, Garcia’s government ordered the national police to break up the demonstrations and a bloody confrontation broke out in the town of Bagua, with numerous casualties on both sides. The government charged Pizango and his collaborators with murder and sedition, prompting the native coalition to change tactics as legal threats escalated.
Filmmakers Heidi Brandenburg Sierralta and Mathew Orzel venture deep into the Peruvian Amazon to capture Pizango’s struggle to protect indigenous territory and lead AIDESEP’s protest campaign. Following him on hunting and fishing forays, they observe the forest flora and fauna that his community relies on for their survival, as well as the ongoing pollution from oil production and the resulting impacts to community health. Their footage of the nonviolent occupation of the oil storage depot and scenes from the tragic confrontation at Bagua create a compelling immediacy, while interviews with Pizango and his collaborators provide a revealing look at the escalating conflict as Pizango struggles to preserve his community’s rights and his own liberty.
When Two Worlds Collide offers a salient addition to the documentation of resource conflicts in the Amazon and the response of native communities to these threats. The sometimes uneven quality of the filmmaking and an absence of outside perspectives on the issues involved may be a concern for some viewers, but these shortcomings are largely outweighed by the filmmakers’ striking footage and their surprising access to Peru’s native communities.