The Last Forest is a documentary showing the Yanomami people and their home, the forest of Brazil. It is co-written and stars Davi, a Yanomami leader and activist. It takes place almost entirely in the forest, showing the daily life of the people there. There are some staged scenes, where their origin story is acted out, and where a hunter is carried off by an evil forest spirit. But most documentaries will have staged scenes, they just won’t telegraph them as clearly.
Davi speaks out to his people about the illegal mining encroaching on Yanomami land. He describes living through the 1986 invasion which killed almost 2000 indigenous people. He tells them of the human and environmental calamity that follows mining.
The folk are in agreement but, much like here, there can be difficulty envisioning such vast and permanent change. Especially when life among the Yanomami is so peaceful. People go about their day, making bread, weaving baskets, feeding weans, watching the dug scratch itself. Living in the forest, as far as they are concerned, is living in luxury. Everything you could ever need, stretching for miles in every direction. And the idea that someone would destroy the systems that sustain human life, seems an impossible feat, a ludicrous and mad suicidal endeavour.
When prospectors show up, the Yanomami put on their camoflague paint, take up arms, and chase them from their lands. “You won’t mine here, we won’t let you!” shouts Davi. But the natural curiosity of a world beyond their own, so different, can prove a temptation to some young men. The fear is that it will be too late before they realise how they will be used in that other world, how they will be leveraged against their own people and home.
The Last Forest shows the world of climate crisis activism from the perspective of the Yanomami. Their way of life has lasted 1000 years, and they are entering crucial years where they will have to fight if they want it to continue.
At the end of the film, Davi steps off the mountain and speaks to a lecture hall full of people at Harvard about the book he has written about Yanomami life and how it is being impacted by the corporate violence driving climate change. And it’s like it’s our world that seems weird. After the cool, canopied safety of the singing, living forest, stepping into a bristling concrete city full of screaming sirens feels alien. The ability to carry the reality of one world to the other is a challenge which is enormous but vital.