Encounters by the water.

Sunday 23:25

Joao Manoel Machado | 
2023 | 
Brazil | 
19:55 mins | 
Indigenous communities, artisans, fishermen and people of various walks of life come together in this documentary which traces the course of a river from its source in the forrest all the way down to the sea. Encounters by the water tells the many stories of people who live by the water in a small coastal town in Brazil threatened by deforestation and the arrival of real estate speculation.

Encounters by the Water, by Joao Manoel Machado, is one of our only films concerning the rights and lives of indigenous communities in this iteration of Small Axe. The film takes an interesting structure: instead of using moving image to represent people the film uses still photographs. The only moving images occur when natural sequences are presented. The film thus de-anthropocentrises the image at the same time as enlivening us to the life of the forest and its people.

Placing the river at the centre of the film, Machado asks us to understand the role that water plays in the lives of these people. Even though it is not directly represented, these people in many ways depend upon the waterways for economy and livelihood at the same time as building an indigenous cosmogony around it. All too often our dependencies are obscured in post-modernity. We know not the source of our food, the source and quality of water. The same can be said of labour. In each instance the origins are disavowed. This is tantamount to an ethical faux pas. When origins are obscured, many abuses can take place. For Machado, understanding our lives as inherently interconnected, dependent, holds an ecological bend.

The lives of the people close to the water also seem different. The water seems to hold a power of rejuvenation for these people, each coming to the water with different stories yet united in a lifestyle and worldview. Indigenous communities settle here, fisher people ply their trade, intellectuals find new meanings and inspirations, creatives add to and help bloom the culture that surrounds the river. The film seems to represent something utopic, giving us pause for hope in a time when neither pausing nor hoping seems possible.

The end of the film sums up the possibilities of this way of living. Karai Tatande, an indigenous member of the community, translates the Brazilian national anthem from Portuguese into Guarani. He sings the lyrics whilst beating a shaker to a constant, steady pulse. As he sings, the film shows us images of water, lakes, rivers, seas. In these images, a conception of national identity, one inherently dual and in flux, is brought about in dependence upon the natural resources that animate and give life to societies. Thus challenged is the Brazilian governments systematic erasure of indigenous communities and resources. The beauty of Encounters by the Water here lies in its opposition through peaceful song.