Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Emerald Forest

This is now quite an old movie, released in 1985 and made by John Boorman, also the director of ‘Deliverance’. Based on a true story, it stars his son, Charley Boorman, who was recently seen on TV out on thrilling motorbike adventures with his friend Ewan McGregor.

This movie made quite an impact on me at the time and is one I ordered on DVD, as I really wanted to see it again. For my mind, there aren’t nearly enough movies that can be described as ‘eco-adventures’, but this certainly is one that is well worth watching – even 26 years on.

Charley plays ‘Tommé’ a young boy who is whisked away by the ‘Invisible People’ while his father, Bill, is working in the Amazon, in charge of clearing land to build a dam. Ten years later the parents are still searching, the only clue being a yellow arrow feather fired by the tribe as they left. Bill and his wife have searched and researched everywhere to find a clue to the location of the ‘invisibles’ deep in the forest.

Tommé has grown up a native, completely integrated with the tribe, his parents existing for him now only in ‘dreamtime’, his ‘real’ father now the tribal chief. On a coming of age quest to find precious green stone, he meets ‘Daddé’ (Bill) and helps him escape from the ‘Fierce People’, an extremely carnivorous and violent tribe who have been driven into the ‘invisibles’ territory by land clearance.
‘Daddé’ recovers slowly at the ‘invisibles’ home but Tommé refuses to go home with him. They move Bill to the ‘edge of the world’ where he will be found by the other ‘termite people’, who cause all the trees to be destroyed. While they are out the Fierce People raid their village and take all the girls to exchange for guns and bullets from a local sex slave trader. Tommé’s betrothed is also kidnapped and the tribe find they cannot raid the bar / brothel as it is too well protected by electric fences, guns and the Fierce People. Tommé sets off beyond the edge of the world to find ‘Daddé’ (and to meet Mommé), to ask for help to get the girls back.
The film somehow reminds of Avatar, a recent favourite. The cinematography is spectacular, transporting the viewer deep into the verdant jungle. Its people are believable and real and beautifully costumed – acted by indigenous Indians. Although there are subtitles as they speak ‘local’ this only adds to their believability in this authentic movie.
Many movies seem to exist in order to subtlety endorse the accepted ‘values’ of Western democracy – such as the much touted ‘family values’. The Emerald Forest does not. Conventionally, after gross sentimentalisation and emotional wallowing, the family always gets back together as a unit in the end. Full credit to John Boorman who defies convention and has Tommé staying with the tribe. This movie extends some of the themes seen in Deliverance, particularly the battle between mankind and nature and the effects of capitalist greed. There should be more films like this.
This is definitely a movie for people who always watched ‘Wild Westerns’ and wanted to be on the Indians side rather than the cowboys. It supports the underdog; it puts us in the forest with the natives. The movie concludes its 26-year-old message:
 “The Rain Forests of the Amazon are disappearing at the rate of 5,000 acres per day. Four million Indians once lived there. 120,000 are left. A few tribes have never had contact with the outside world. They still know what we have forgotten”.
Simon Mitchell lives on the edge of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall and loves growing things in his garden, then eating them. He writes about ecology issues, makes beautiful websites and publishes books. He also runs a Resurgence Readers’ Group. Pick up his free eco-zine at:

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