A Docdays Production
by Carl Gierstorfer
The River Between UsThe people of the Mashco Piro fled deep into the Peruvian Amazon to escape the cruelty of colonialist rubber companies. They cut all contact with the outside world and entered an isolation they haven’t abandoned to this day. Carl Gierstorfer, the award-wininng German filmmaker and biologist, turns around in front of the river and looks back at those who want to break the contact with the isolated people.
Missionaires, gold miners, drug traffickers, and ordinary villagers, who all feel it is their right to decide on the Mashco Piro’s fate. Only a group of dedicated anthropologists stands between outside forces and the Mashco Piro, who themselves are torn between curiosity and fear. When a murder happens and the fate of the Mashco Piro hangs in the balance, Carl Gierstorfer is there to document and let the story carry itself.
Until a decade ago, little was known about this people of the Peruvian Amazon; there were only random encounters with boat travelers and a few pictures taken by light aircrafts on overflights. But then - for reasons that still are mysterious - the Mashco Piro made themselves known to park rangers and indigenous settlements, many of which lie directly on the opposite bank of the Madre de Dios river. These settlements are fully connected to the modern world with mobile phone, satellite TV connection and villagers that have seen big cities and other countries.
In stark contrast, across the river, a way of life has remained unchanged for 20,000 years – without iron tools, clothes, agriculture or permanent dwellings. When the Mashco Piro cut off all contact with the outside world, they abandoned any sedentary habits and stuck together in groups of hunter- gatherers. But they still share the same language as their neighbors across the river. Referring to a common past, that was brutally torn apart when rubber tappers entered their territory a century ago, they still call each other Nomole – brothers.
Only a group of anthropologists working for Peru’s Ministry of Culture protect the isolated Mashco Piro from outside forces, who are pushing to contact and infiltrate their territory of pristine rainforest. Some believe the Mashco Piro want to be part of the modern world, while others want to take over their lands to cut timber, mine for gold or smuggle cocaine.
And while the Mashco Piro are totally unaware of the riches they sit on and the power-struggles they have provoked, they themselves have shown an increasing curiosity about the outside world. They try to stop passing boats, asking for ‘things’ – some of apparent symbolic importance like shirts and life-vest, other of practical use like knives and machetes. Sometimes, their interactions with the outside world have been violent.
In 2015, they killed a 15-year-old boy in native community, and in 2018 a 74-year old villager, who entered their territory to go fishing. Both murders left the communities feeling helpless and afraid. There were angry calls for revenge, accusations against the anthropologists and campaigns to contact the Mashco Piro. Few wanted to acknowledge that “contact” is a process that almost inevitably ends with disease, death and the loss of identity for the contacted, a questions this film will explore.
While the story has elements of a thriller, it also reflects existential questions about the human condition. We have gained exclusive access to a unique project where a team of anthropologists have started a dialogue with the Mashco Piro, who keep appearing regularly at the opposite riverbank. It is an unprecedented experiment with the objective of finding out the motives of an isolated people; to warn them about the dangers that come with contact while still allowing them to chose their own path into a fragile future.
DocMX Mexico (International Premiere), NaturVision