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Defending Eden

Defending Eden
Defending Eden tells the story of a people in transition and an ecosystem on the brink, as it follows five students trying to reclaim knowledge of the natural world their people have guarded for thousands of years. The Waorani, an indigenous tribe in the Ecuadorian Amazon, are struggling to hold on to a traditional hunter gatherer lifestyle amidst a period of immense change. In an effort to preserve their cultural identity and promote a lifestyle sustainable for their forest, a small group of Waorani youth are creating a wildlife field guide in their own language that combines traditional knowledge with Western science. It is intended to enable the Waorani to better monitor their resources, namely biodiversity, and help preserve their little-known way of life before it is overpowered by modern forces. But in order to record the names of many of the plants and animals, they must consult their elders, who are spread widely across a territory larger than New Jersey. As the elders approach their final years, and pressures on the Waorani Territory intensify, the Waorani youth must battle time.

The journey will begin in the Waorani community of Kewediono with five students, their teacher, Ciara Wirth, and biologist Kelly Swing. The students are of varying ages, the youngest of which is Toca, a 16-year old boy, who has taken a great interest in videography, and is the main provider of meat for his family. The oldest is Obe, a 26-year-old mother of four committed to preserving Waorani traditions for her children and future generations. Weba, the elder of Kewediono, will also be joining us. An elder in her 90?s, she was an adult during the period of first contact, and lived a traditional Waorani hunter gatherer lifestyle. She is a gatekeeper of mythological stories, and stories about the past, including one particular incident where she was speared twice through her gut. Wirth represents an advocate for indigenous rights, and will provide the perspective of a westerner attempting to share knowledge about the modern world, while appreciating tradition. Swing, as the biologist, represents the environment, and is the advocate for the biological health of the forest. Weba represents the fleeting traditions that the Waorani must preserve. The students--keystone characters that will bridge and meld tradition with modern science--tie the story together as the great hope for their people and their forest?s future.

With the students and their elders, we will travel deep into the rainforest to document the students assembling the field guide, recording practical knowledge and lore passed down through the generations. The footage we will use in the documentary will include video captured by the students themselves, where, with training in videography that has already begun, they ill be allowed to capture their world on their own, uninhibited by the presence of a film crew of outsiders. We will venture across the territory of a neighboring tribe by foot and then continue to various Waorani communities to find a handful of elders. With them, we will travel down the Tiputini River, once the main artery through their territory. The journey to the river will offer the students a sad reminder of the importance of preserving their land. In the land of the neighboring tribes and the Waorani communities along the road, the forest has been cleared, biodiversity is scant, and poverty epidemic. Crime is prevalent, which is something the students have very little exposure to in Kewediono. For many, it will be the first time they will be exposed to the future of their land in the presence of development -- a brutal departure from the world they know. Following this, we will follow the Tiputini as it cuts through the upper reaches of the Amazon, encountering the rare wildlife the Waorani hope to protect. The final destination will be the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, a place now known to house more species per hectare than any place on Earth. At this place, the? students will be stunned by the pristine landscape their elders lived in before first contact, and their elders will experience the nostalgia of an Eden lost. Here, they will complete their guide book, conclude the education their elders have to offer them, and be invigorated by the exposure to their forest in its finest form, preserved in all its majesty. The experience will come full circle six months down the line when we travel back to Kewediono to examine the students? progress in creating their field guide, and maintaining a web channel they will be using to broadcast footage of their traditions, wildlife, and health of their forest.

Our journey will be visually stunning. We will capture images of the forests within the Waorani territory and Yasun?, which are some of the most biodiverse and least explored places on earth. Capturing this journey with the latest large sensor cameras, we will provide the most true-to-life and cinematic imagery. With innovative stabilization and rigging systems, we will follow the students along the river, ground, and even from trees. In addition, footage and photos captured by the Waorani students will be incorporated into the film so the audience will see the forest through the lens of the students themselves. The production crew will aim to serve as the dominant force in capturing the narrative, but they will also guide the narrative the subjects themselves reveal. Not only does this, in a sense, purify the storytelling strategy, it also grants more access to aspects of the story that would otherwise be unavailable to a foreign film crew. In this way, we will take a more observational direct cinema approach from the perspective of the filmmakers, combined with a cin?ma v?rit? technique where the students document their own lives with their own handheld cameras. Narration will be replaced with interview footage, and occasional text where appropriate.

At the core of Defending Eden is a human interest story about a small group of people facing immense obstacles, and we are presenting the subject matter through the lens of the subjects. But this film ventures beyond the cinematic ending of the documentary--Defending Eden?s story will continue off-screen. After the film, the Waorani students will continue to document their world through a website with their own, regularly updated videos and photos. This will enable audiences from around the world to access the Waorani way of life.

Because of our extensive experience in the Ecuadorian Amazon, our friendship with the characters involved in this film, and our strong connections in the region and within Waorani communities, we believe we have the unique ability to make this film. Both Jennifer Berglund and Keith Heyward studied tropical ecology with Dr. Kelly Swing in 2005, and have maintained a friendship with him over the years. Ciara Wirth is a friend who has invested a significant amount of time to the planning of this project. Berglund and Heyward have also spent ample time in the Waorani community of Kewediono where they worked to build the project with the Waorani students, and they taught them videography techniques. The students have developed a positive rapport with Berglund and Heyward, which will bolster the progress of filming, and the video content we will be able to obtain.
There will be two versions of the film: one 90-minute feature-length version to be shown in theaters, and another 52-minute version for broadcast.

SKU SKU17573
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