field notes: Brazil
I first went to Brazil with my parents back in 1976. I was only two years old at the time and had no idea what I was getting into. I thought it was a pretty normal growing up, hunting two foot long lizards for supper, swimming in Amazonian tributaries alongside the piranhas and fresh water dolphins. (As a side note, when crossing a massive river in a small dugout canoe and a pink dolphin the same size as your dugout surfaces next to you while clearing its blowhole… Hold on to the boat. It is scary as heck and if you capsize into said river you have to deal with the piranhas. Yes, this happened more than once to me and yes, you think the monsters of the deep are definitely there to eat you.)
From the earliest time I can remember, my dad always had a camera in his hand. Most of the time it was an old “super 8”mm film camera that he was using to document life. The nights that we would watch the footage projected on the wall of the living room were always a highlight. The way the projector would click, click, click in its rhythmic song while the film flew through the little wheels… it was mesmerizing, almost magical. On each of our trips, the camera was always present. On one such trip my brothers and I were along for the ride We traveled through the Amazon jungle for days without seeing other people, almost as though in that whole jungle there was just us and dad’s old truck rumbling down the rough dirt roads. At night we would sleep in the bed of the truck gazing at the blanket of stars while listening to the howler monkeys as they debated back and forth through the trees.
I remember when my dad went on an extended trip into the Amazon to help document a tribal group that had recently been contacted by the outside world. The footage he brought home was mind bending. The way of life of these people was something so foreign to what “civilization” saw as normal, yet they had community, and they had a system of life that worked with their environment in amazing and challenging ways. My dad was tasked with storytelling among a people that had seen only a half dozen or so outsiders so everything that my dad did, every piece of equipment he used, was a spectacle to them. He had to work around being the center of attention and still capture footage of these unique people that was as unspoiled as possible. Given the complex nature of the work environment, the footage that he was able to make was astounding. Seeing how my dad had worked in that environment, how he handled himself and managed to get the footage he did, has always been a challenge to me. Those skills and mindsets have come back to me often on different documentary film projects of which I have been a part.
I left Brazil after high school, eighteen years old and ready to take on the world. Well… I thought I was ready. I have lived through many amazing challenges in many places around the world since leaving Brazil. The desire to tell the stories of the unique people of this world has not diminished. I have only just begun...