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By Mark Fulton | July 30, 2009

The double suicide of two teenage girls drives the Guarani-Kaiowa native Brazilian tribe to try to reclaim land taken by cattle ranchers. The camp-out/sit-in raises tensions between natives and ranchers that have existed for years. How badly will violence explode? One of the film’s virtues is that violence doesn’t erupt as it might in lesser hands. Marco Bechis’ direction is very deliberate, focused, elegant, and sometimes pleasantly off-kilter, yet never distracts from the strong story.

The true star here is the intelligent script co-written by Bechis and Luiz Bolognesi. No one is portrayed in solely good or bad terms. The natives create their impending extinction as much as anyone else. This is best illustrated when another native teen commits suicide. Does the head of the tribe morn the tragedy and blame gringos? No. The dead kid gets what he deserved for associating with western culture; he bought a pair of sneakers. His memory should be erased because of his disgrace. This repudiation in the long run will further alienate the victim’s best friend, progressing a societal self-destructive cycle. The cattle rancher, on the other hand, uses land that’s been in his family for sixty years and wants a good living. Having enough cattle feed is a burdening challenge. Of course, his life style is luxurious, including a native house servant.

The title if this film, which screened at LAFF, is an exercise in irony. The rancher’s wife, who is a lawyer, has a small club that looks at slides of rare birds. The Caucasian group’s slashing of the Amazon rainforest for grazing land endangers these species.

An infatuation between a native boy and rancher girl, both teenagers, illustrates how cultures have intertwined and will intertwine. No group’s efforts will stop this. The script’s use of sex is carefully considered. Two times native women turn down advances from their own tribal men. In both cases, there is sex later with a member from the ranchers. Whether they can articulate it or not, on an instinctual level the women know the tribe’s days are over. The only real chance of survival is procreation with the outside world.

With the intelligent script and excellent direction, Birdwatchers is compelling viewing which does not bat the audience over the head with its issues. Honest interaction between people makes the storyline compelling.

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