• Film

Docs: “The Territory” wants to Protect us All

The title of the documentary film The Territory refers to a 7,000-square mile region in the Brazilian state of Rondônia. It is the sovereign land of the Uru-eu-wau-wau and other Indigenous groups. Surrounded by farms on all sides, the Uru-eu-wau-wau are a small group of people, who fight to protect their land against invaders and land settlers, who burn down the rainforest.

Once a tribe of more than 2000 people, they are now less than 200, who not only battle against the invaders, but also the Brazilian government, which seems to be ignorant to the fact that the deforestation of the rainforest is a major environment catastrophe, which affects the whole world’s population.

The Territory is directed by Alex Pritz, whose team was embedded with the invaders of the land as well as the indigenous people, who defended it for three years and risk their lives to do so and thus the film creates a rather unique perspective of the fight for the rain forest leaving the audience with a highly complex and objective picture of the situation.

The conflict is ongoing. The recent murder of a British journalist and his Indigenous guide in Brazil’s Amazon shows the dangers in trying to protect the rainforest from distinction. We spoke to one of the film’s producers Sigrid Dyekjær on zoom from Denmark about her motivation to become part of the first time director’s ambitious project.


Talk about your involvement with the film as a producer of The Territory. What made you want to be part of making the film?

The talent is what makes me join a film. Through Lizzie Gillett from Passion Pictures, whom I had made another film with, I met with the director Alex Pritz and Will Miller, who were the initiators of the film. I always fall in love with really good film directors and very good story telling. At the time, they were still shooting in Brazil and only had a few clips that they had put together, Covid had hit so they could no longer shoot and had handed over the cameras to the indigenous community and taught them how to become great cinematographers.

I fell in love with the way Alex works so inclusively in his filmmaking. He collaborates with the indigenous people to a large extent, but still has a very strong directorial vision. This sounds easy, but I learned from making documentaries like The Cave that this is very hard to manage.

When I dived into it, I could see that the way I work could make a difference for this young team along with experienced producers as Lizzie Gillett and Darren Aronofsky. And the team was open to learn how to bring the film to a higher level and was not daunted by the great team, who participated in the filmmaking process. The whole craft level was very high and those are the sort of films I like to produce.

What made you trust Alex Pritz, who is a first time director, with a project of this scale?

He has a very strong vision and he is an enormous talent. His cinematography is stunning. He is deeply embedded in the story, the theme and the community and has built the film with the community in many ways. It follows both the land grabbers and the indigenous community. That is very difficult to do, because you have to create a wall between the two parties or you can endanger one of them or you can lose their confidence and loyalty if you do not know how to maneuver those two sides. He made some very smart decisions about having two different teams work on each side and not mixing the teams.

You have managed to make a fairly objective documentary about the invaders and the farmer, who take part in the deforestation with the blessing of the current government and the Uru-eu-wau-wau indigenous people who fight them. Was it a deliberate choice to make it so objective? To show both the perspective of the land grabbers as you call them and the indigenous people?

In the beginning he was not so keen on filming the land grabbers, the woodchoppers and settlers because his heart was to some extent with the indigenous community. But that choice was based on the indigenous group’s initiative that he went to shoot on the other side because they suggested that they would actually talk to the filmmakers.

Another thing that attracted me was that it is a film that has a message to some extent. What I like about this project is that it is a character driven story and behind this is a bigger message about protecting the indigenous community, who are protecting the land and the forest and because they are protecting the forest, they are protecting all of us.

It is not an in your face message film. It is more creatively done, so you feel the theme of the film on a deeper level without it being constantly thrown in your face.

Was it important that the film had this approach for you?

It was very important. It goes back to Darren Aronofsky’s initial conversations with Alex, where they talked about them being human too. They are very poor and have no way to support their families, so how on earth are they going to survive if they do not have jobs and the country is in this bad state. I think it is the film’s strength that we are not judging them. We are actually trying to understand them and see what it is like to be them.  Why are they chopping down the rain forest and why is it that they don’t have an opportunity to bring food on the table for their kids and get a life up and running with their families? America is built on people just going and grapping land and it is deeply rooted in the American culture. So it was very important for us to show both sides, which also makes the film more interesting. It is nuanced and it is not so black and white. And if you understand why the land grabbers do it, you realize that there is so much more that needs to be done to save the rain forest. It is everybody’s responsibility to make sure that the eco system works. It is not only their responsibility.

How significant was it for you that National Geographic acquired the film at Sundance?

It is a great film. It is a great fit. I felt quite early on that it could be a film for National Geographic, because it is a film about inclusion, about collaboration. The director is an American male, but how he has made the film in collaboration with the community and done it so smoothly and beautifully. Also, it is about the Amazon, so it seems to be a natural home for the film. They have had a lot of covers with indigenous communities during the many years that the magazine existed. What they fell in love with in our film was that in this film, we give the cameras to the indigenous communities and they start to film their own lives and what they look like. They are not simply portrayed by a white man, they are actually showing us who they are themselves and how they want to be portrayed. They show us the threat they live under, which is actually a death threat. They fight for the survival of the rain forest, which is actually the fight for everyone’s survival. So the core values for National Geographic matches the film so perfectly.

You have also created an impact campaign. What can you tell us about it?

We have an incredible partner called Luminate, who are one of the equity investors in the film and they promised us that if we found a good home for the film and they would get their money back, they would reinvest their money into the impact campaign. So we have a budget of around USD 500,000 and it is an impact campaign that lasts for at least two years.

We are building a media center in the Amazon with the indigenous community where they are going to have master classes and do more films and shoot have new cameras, edit suite, sound studio and my dream is that we can help have an indigenous film being made from the Amazon.  That would be a full circle for my producing work.

You have been at a number of festivals since Sundance, where you won two awards; the Audience Award for Best Documentary Cinema and Special Jury citation for Documentary Craft. What has the journey been like?

Winning two awards at Sundance was a very good start and we have won about 14 awards by now and it is July. The film has now been selected for over 70 film festivals, so it has performed enormously well with the audience. We now look forward to our theatrical release, which will be August 19 in the US.  We have a pre-premiere in New York in Central Park on the 16th where everyone is welcome.