Tropical rainforests are beautiful, mysterious realms where half of the earth’s plant and animal species have evolved over millions of years. But in just a few decades, extractive industries have cleared huge swaths of these habitats—leveling an area the size of Panama every year. This new documentary introduces some of the indigenous environmentalists working to protect these forests and risking exile, jail, and even death to do so.
The film When Two Worlds Collide tells the story of Alberto Pizango and his network of forest fighters (AIDESAP). The hunt for fossil fuels had been creating vast toxic wastelands in the pristine rainforests of the Peruvian Amazon where Pizango, now 51, grew up.
The tale begins in 2009, when indigenous communities faced increasing pressure from government and industry to allow greater oil and timber development on their lands. Pizango and his followers stood their ground, with deadly consequences. The film highlights several clashes between police and locals in June of that year, when 80 rural residents were shot and 11 police officers were killed.
“We’ll fight so that the rest of humanity always has the rainforest,” says Pizango in the film, directed by Heidi Brandenburg Sierralta and Mathew Orzel.
Forced to flee Peru after government authorities threatened to arrest him, Pizango returned to face charges after major protests over the government’s harsh tactics roiled the country.
Pizango and dozens of other protesters were convicted of inciting their people to violence. They now await sentencing, which could send them to jail for decades. Meanwhile, plans for clearing the region of trees and habitat continue, though the controversial laws that grant the government power to mine, log, and drill on indigenous lands without consulting residents have been repealed.
At the Sundance Film Festival in January, When Two Worlds Collide won Best Debut Feature.
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