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Review: Holding Up The Sky


- Belgian director Pieter Van Eecke takes us to the heart of the Amazon rainforest where indigenous populations are forced to contend with human cruelty and recklessness

Review: Holding Up The Sky
Davi Kopenawa in Holding Up The Sky

The tropical rainforest - the home of the Yanomami and the magical kingdom from which they draw their ancestral wisdom - is suffering. Those responsible for abusing it, polluting its waters and its land, and draining its resources, are the greedy “whites” (as the Yanomami call them) who will stop at nothing to get their hands on the forest’s natural resources, primarily its gold. Suffering alongside it are the populations who have lived within it, taken care of it and respected it since time immemorial, and who are now afraid as they realise the precariousness of man’s life on Earth. It is this people, their world and their beliefs that Pieter Van Eecke’s documentary Holding Up The Sky [+see also:
film profile
examines by way of Davi Kopenawa, the Yanomami’s shaman and chief who has acted as the spokesperson for an entire people for decades.

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Enjoying its world premiere in FIFDH Geneva’s Focus Competition, Holding Up The Sky emphasises the paradox inherent to the Amazon rainforest, which acts as the breathtakingly beautiful lungs of the world, as well as a playing field for greedy and spoiled world leaders who exploit its immense resources. Whilst production, consumption and money are all that matters to the latter, indigenous populations believe it’s essential to maintain a balance between nature and its inhabitants. They’re two mentalities which are difficult to reconcile, but they have to co-exist in a land which is fast becoming an out and out battle ground.

As Davi Kopenawa explains, according to the Yanomami tradition, if the shamans stop dancing and life in the tropical rainforest loses its equilibrium, the sky will fall in, crushing everything beneath it. It’s a warning which the Bolsonaro President doesn’t seem to heed in the slightest, given his plan to allow a variety of industries - notably the mining sector - to merrily set up shop in the Amazon rainforest. The deforestation, the water and ground pollution they promote, not to mention the diseases - as yet unknown to the indigenous peoples - and the global warming this causes, still don’t deter them from their shameless pursuit of wealth. It’s against this blindness that Davi must constantly battle, taking part in discussions in far off locations while subjected to regulation he sees as highly illogical. In this sense, the scenes where the shaman is forced to pose for official photos which feel decidedly voyeuristic, or to say what he needs to say within a split-second timeframe, are significant, to say the least.

In a well-balanced toing and froing between paradisiacal images of the still flourishing Amazon rainforest where the Yanomami live, panoramic shots highlighting the damage caused by deforestation as brought about by Bolsonaro, and clinically organised international meetings, Holding Up The Sky opens up a dialogue between incredibly diverse realities and mentalities. Will the international community’s interest in Davi’s discourse suffice to save a world focused entirely on consumerism? Will the voice of the rainforest which the Yanomami are protecting finally be listened to and understood? These are the questions raised by the film, whilst also leaving space for the cosmogony of the Yanomami who observe without paternalism.

Holding Up The Sky is produced by Belgium’s Clin d’oeil Films together with Holland’s Een van de Jongens, Belgian firms VRT – Vlaamse Radio Televisie and RTBF Radio Télévision Belge Francophone, and Brazilian outfits Rio Taruma Films and Hutukara Associação Yanomami.

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(Translated from Italian)

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