Storytelling in the face of Amazon destruction

| 10th September 2019
Eilidh Munro and others
Bethan John
New documentary, Second Chances, shows how even the most unlikely people can become environmental defenders.


A new short film follows the journey of Juvenal Huari Castilla who travelled to the Amazon to log the rainforest. It's a personal story of growth and transformation. 

This three-minute mini-doc shows that, despite the challenges, it is possible to reverse the damaging impact that people are having on the planet.

The film was named a finalist in the Conservation Optimism Film Festival last week, as part of their 2019 summit to share ideas and solutions for more empowering conservation.

Root causes

The short film is set in the Manu Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Peruvian Amazon and one of the world's most important protected areas. It’s a biodiversity hotspot and home to uncontacted indigenous people, yet the destruction of the rainforest through illegal logging is widespread and uncontrolled.

Juvenal tells his story while sitting in a lush tropical forest, an area he'd once been hired to destroy. Despite having been logged to create farmland, scientists have proven that today the biodiversity value of the forest has, in some areas, reached 87 percent of what you would expect to find in primary forest.

Thanks to long-term protection and natural regeneration, biodiversity has bounced back and nature has been given a second chance to thrive. 

For the past twelve years, Juvenal has been working with researchers from the Crees Foundation to conserve this forest and its wild creatures. Through his reconnection with nature, the film suggests people are hardwired to love the natural world, even though they are responsible for its destruction. 

By subtly drawing attention to the root causes of destructive practices in Manu, namely the lack of alternative job opportunities, it challenges simple definitions of what’s good or bad, right or wrong. Given the right circumstances – a second chance – we all have the capacity to care for our natural world. In fact, the film suggests, we all innately do.

We interviewed filmmaker, Eilidh Munro, to discover what inspired her to create the documentary:

Q: What’s it like to work in one of the most biodiverse places on Earth? 

As a wildlife or conservation filmmaker I don't think there is a more incredible place to work. Every day brings new opportunities to experience the natural world, whether that's waking up to the booms and crashes of a tropical thunderstorm, walking underneath a troop of monkeys or spotting the sci-fi-esque victim of the cordyceps fungus.

It's also an incredibly challenging place to work and live, with a daily battle to keep lenses dry and mould-free. However, despite being the most biodiverse place in the world, the rainforest certainly doesn't give away its secrets easily. You need patience, resilience - and a bit of good luck doesn’t go amiss! 

Q: What are the threats facing this region of the Amazon? 

Manu is home to a number of indigenous communities and endemic wildlife found nowhere else on Earth. However, this area is increasingly being opened up to the outside world, with a lack of control methods being put in place to limit the impacts that people are having on this globally important area.

Slash and burn agriculture, illegal logging, gold mining and cocaine trafficking are existing industries in Madre de Dios - and the emergence of new roads which connect this rainforest region to cities, such as Cusco and Puerto Maldonado, are quickly increasing the pressure on natural resources, ecology and indigenous cultures. 

Q: What motivated you to create a film that highlights a positive story? 

The forest this short is filmed in, the Crees Reserve, was once cleared for agriculture - a story which is being repeated across the Amazon at an alarming rate.

The fact that 87 percent of all biodiversity has returned to this place is such an incredibly hopeful case study and shows that there is potential for other damaged rainforests to recover, given the chance.

In a time when it can be easy to feel defeated by environmental issues, this is something I don't think the majority of people realise is possible. 

It's also very easy to demonise the people who are directly involved with deforestation: loggers, hunters, miners... However, the majority of people working on the ground in these industries are most likely escaping poverty elsewhere.

Juvenal's story is personal to his own experience and testament to his openness to different world views, however it also inspired me to challenge people's preconceptions of what makes a 'Conservationist', and to show how increased opportunities can change a person's - and the environment's - fate. 

Q: What role do films have in making an impact to help conservation? 

Stories have the power to speak to people on an emotional level - and that is what inspires change, not logic or information, so I think film has an incredibly powerful role to play in conservation.

There are huge opportunities for researchers and filmmakers to collaborate to better communicate the threats and opportunities surrounding climate change and environmental issues.

Arguably, the majority of these films are talking to a similar audience who are, on the whole, already engaged with these issues. Perhaps, to achieve greater impact, more could be done to communicate with hard-to-reach, cynical audiences who have a different world view to the one broadly targeted. 

Q: How have you been establishing a career as an independent filmmaker? 

After building up my filming and photography portfolio whilst working in marketing, I started working as Digital Content Creator in the Peruvian Amazon for the Crees Foundation, based in the Manu Biosphere Reserve.

During this time, I made a short documentary for Crees about spider monkey feeding behaviour that’s rarely caught on camera. 

I later applied for funding through the Scientific Exploration Society to return to Manu to create an independent documentary about a road which is being built through the Reserve.

This gave me the opportunity to create a 25 minute film, Voices on the Road, after running a successful crowdfunder campaign that was generously match funded through IUCN NL. The documentary will be released very soon and I can’t wait to see how audiences respond to it.  

This Author

Bethan John is a freelance multimedia journalist specialising in biodiversity conservation and social justice.

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