Tribeca: “Xingu” – how three brothers protected the Indians in Brazil

This entry was posted on 19.04.2012

Brazil might be the country with the most undiscovered tribes in the world – considering it’s vast hinterland, it’s not a surprise when a new discovery makes the news. Back in the Forties this was normal: Some Indian tribes in Brazil already worked for the white people, others still haven’t seen a single white person. The three brothers Orlando, Claudio and Leonardo Villas-Boas changed that, and they also became some of the most important protectors of the people who lived in Brazil long before the advent of the Europeans. Cao Hamburger tells their story in “Xingu”, which has its American premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The three brothers were real life activists who even were considered for a nobel peace price in the Seventies. They embark on an adventure into the hinterland of Brazil – the government is looking for airstrips to expand its influence. The Villas-Boas brothers discover a place – and a helpful indian tribe nearby the Xingu river.

Contact between two different civilizations (as also seen in James Cameron’s “Avatar”) is never easy: Pretty soon many of the Indians die because of the flu – a disease they never experienced before. Members of another tribe, exploited by white settlers, seek protection and hope for the help of the Villas-Boas brothers. Pretty soon, they turn into fierce and aggressive protectors of the indigenous people at the Xingu river. “The white man is the enemy”, one of them says at some point.

The brothers pay a price for it: They almost get killed during an expedition – their plane was sabotaged, Hamburger claims. Leonardo, who falls in love with an Indian girl and is send away by Orlando because of this, commits suicide. Claudio also loves an Indian girl, but mostly stays away from her.

This is almost the more interesting part of the story of “Xingu”. The most remarkable scene happens when the Villas Boas’ are finally able to form a national park in which the Indians are protected. They go around and bring the people to the park. When a couple refuses to go – they make good money working for the white settlers -, Claudio points a gun at the man and forces him to come. Does this make him any different from the settlers who use guns to force the Indians to work?

“Xingu”, although it tells a story that happened a few decades ago, has an urgent relevance these days: The Brazilian government is considering a water dam which would endanger parts of the national park – so far unsuccessful. But Brazil might need some Villas-Boas again.

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