Sundance 2022: An Inspiring Indigenous Story in 'The Territory' Doc
by Alex Billington
January 28, 2022
Fight the power!! One of the best documentary films premiering at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival is a story of an Indigenous tribe in the Amazon rainforest. The film is called The Territory, and it's made by an up-and-coming filmmaker named Alex Pritz, making his first feature, and it's produced by none other than Darren Aronofsky and his company Protozoa Pictures. The film features some of my favorite scenes in any doc film at the festival, following these people around their territory as they defend their land from non-Native invaders. The film very diligently and very empathetically establishes a dual narrative, and also very carefully uses the right words to describe how these Natives are being attacked by dangerous outsiders. I only caught up with this film late in the festival, after watching nearly 50 other films, and it still completely rocked me. Powerful filmmaking combined with a powerful must-tell story makes for an unforgettable film.
The Territory is about the Indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people who live off the land in the middle of the Amazon in Brazil, close to the Bolivian border (Google Maps). This has always been their land, even before the non-Natives arrived, but their population has been dwindling and their way of life has been threatened. Brazil, like many countries in the world righ tnow, has been overtaken by a fascist conservative movement, resulting in the election of a despicable President. One of his missions is to take away Indigenous land, wipe it clean and remove all the trees, leaving it available for cattle farming. Everything about this is wrong and backwards. But there are some Brazilians who blindly believe that farming is important, and are empowered by this corrupt government to venture into the rainforest and stake their claim. But the Uru-eu-wau-wau are ready to fight back, and this film captures that critical moment for this tribe on camera. It's awesome to see.
The first half of The Territory spends most of its time introducing us to the Uru-eu-wau-wau people, as well as one key activist who has been supporting them for years, a woman known as Neidinha. It also spends its time explaining the situation, not only with Brazil and what's happening, but also by following a handful of "settlers" as they're known. Occasionally it will jump back into their story, observing as they slash and burn into the rainforest and spew nonsense about how it's "their land". This part of the film is a bit frustrating, but I understand the point – they're trying to show us their perspective. Even though it's entirely wrong and delusional, it's an important opposite to the Natives. This is thankfully balanced by all the footage of the Uru-eu-wau-wau people and their home. They're quite contemporary – although their traditions and forest-based livelihood are maintained, they wear modern t-shirts and use cell phones and modern video cameras.
The film also works as invigorating activism in its own way. Eventually we get to the best part - the scenes where the Uru-eu-wau-wau are running around in their own branded t-shirts with their hand-made bows & arrows hunting for invaders. It's SO badass. One of my favorite moments from any Sundance film this year. Alex Pritz's The Territory is an extraordinary film that demands to be seen and appreciated. It's fascinating to wonder how they got all of this footage to begin with, from both sides, taking us into their worlds with surprisingly candid moments. It's also refreshing to consider how they put all of this together to tell such a meaningful story. The whole film is gripping from start to finish, as a viewer we watch and wonder what's next; will they defeat these invaders, will something else bad happen. But there's hope at the end. The kind of hope that can change the world. It's an inspiring story of fighting back, an empowering film of resistance.