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Indigenous women filmmakers form collective, using cameras to fight for rights

Image: Indigenous filmmaker Priscila Tapajowara. Photo courtesy of Matheus Alves.
  • In 2022, a group of Indigenous women created Rede Katahirine, a network composed of 60 filmmakers, producers and screenwriters who represent Indigenous women from nearly all of Brazil’s biomes.
  • In placing Indigenous audiovisual arts in the hands of women, the network aims to use its cameras as tools to fight for the preservation of Indigenous territories and memory.
  • Aside from funding new productions, Rede Katahirine organizes monthly meetings for screenings and conversations.

While the name Katahirine seems like it could be for an observatory or some ambitious outer space project, it is rather the name of the first audiovisual network created and run by Indigenous women in Brazil.

In the language of the Manchineri people native to Brazil’s state of Acre, Katahirine means “constellation.” It was chosen by the collective because it implies plurality, the gathering of voices from many territories under one platform.

Each filmmaker shining with camera in hand, together they are discovering the possibilities of filmmaking, an art that some years ago would have been impossible to practice in regions far from Brazil’s big cities.

But as mobile phones, digital cameras and audiovisual equipment become more accessible, filmmaking today is part of the lives of dozens of Indigenous women across Brazil. There are 60 members of Katahirine – Rede Audiovisual de Mulheres Indígenas working on their own productions, including fiction and documentaries, filming the reality inside their communities from the north to the south of Brazil.

For the time being, the Pantanal is the only region not filmed by a member of the network. But this could change soon, according to Mari Corrêa, filmmaker and project founder.

Corrêa also created Instituto Catitu, which provides funding for Rede Katahirine. She has been developing audiovisual training programs for Indigenous peoples for 30 years — a story that began with workshops she gave in the Xingu Indigenous Park as part of the Video in Villages (Vídeo nas Aldeias) project.

Corrêa had always worked with mixed groups of students — men, women, older adults and children — in order to challenge the differences found there, including ageism. But today, she says, “in situations where I worked with mixed groups of men and women, the men were always the protagonists. The women would assume more timid roles, hanging out at the back of the room while the men held the cameras and discussed the plots.”

Founded in 2009, Instituto Catitu has released some 50 films made exclusively by Indigenous people and also some of mixed directorship. The films have won prizes inside Brazil and abroad.

Clip on Instituto Catitu’s film school for women in the Xingu.

Rede Katahirine was created in September 2022 as a branch of the Instituto Catitu. It initially aimed to map out the locations of Indigenous women producing content in Brazil. With the support of Indigenous activists and those working to preserve cultural agendas inside villages and of Indigenous peoples, the project had 20 participants at the start.

“We wanted to locate women who already had some type of audiovisual experience but who weren’t necessarily producing at the time. There was also much sentiment that [Indigenous people] were losing important parts of their culture. It needed to be documented in order not be lost, and the way to dialogue and communicate within society is in your own voice,” Corrêa says.

With many languages and dialects, the Rede Katahirine holds all of its meetings in Portuguese, the language in which all participants manage to express themselves, albeit at different levels of fluency.

If some years ago only the men could speak English inside some communities, today women have the final say in the projects led by Instituto Catitu and Rede Katahirine. “They always had a voice, we just help amplify it, to spread the word of so many artists,” Corrêa says.


The film Preconceito by Olinda Yawar Tupinambá.

Documenting memory

Among Rede Katahirine’s activities is its Cineclube, a monthly meeting to discuss important topics related to the project. One filmmaker is chosen to curate each session, selecting a film and inviting a director to participate in the debate.

The vibe at the meetings is friendly, says Corrêa. The filmmakers use the space to hear about what the others are working on, what they need, their difficulties and their successes. They also discuss their expectations for the project, which is seeking support from Brazil’s Ministry of Culture and its Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, in addition to public and private support.

The Ford Foundation will provide funding for implementation of the project in 2024 and 2025. Today, Rede Katahirine receives support from three other entities.

Structured around four lines of activity (audiovisual dducation, distribution and visibility, reinforcing group strength, project promotion and research), Rede Katahirine has seven advisers, five of whom are Indigenous women and two non-Indigenous women. They are Corrêa along with Olinda Yawar Tupinambá, Patrícia Ferreira Pará Yxapy, Vanúzia Bonfim Vieira Pataxó, Francy Baniwa, Bárbara Cariry Graci Poty, and Sophia Pinheiro.

Graciela Guarani, better known as Graci Poty, is one of the advisers and also one of today’s most successful Indigenous filmmakers. She authored the documentary Meu Sangue É Vermelho (My Blood is Red), which tells the story of Werá, a young Indigenous rapper trying to understand the violence against his people.

Trailer for the film Meu Sangue é Vermelho by Graci Poty.

With the current Minister of Indigenous Peoples Sonia Guajajara and Brazilian rapper Criolo in its cast, the documentary received prizes including Best Documentary at the Milestone Worldwide Film Festival in Battipaglia, Italy, and an honorable mention at the prestigious Los Angeles Film Awards in the United States.

Born in the Ponta-Porã Indigenous Territory in Mato Grosso do Sul, Poty has worked with artistic languages since she was a child. She started out drawing and later moved on to photography and audiovisual content. She saw that multimedia offered new means for keeping alive the storytelling tradition — a primarily oral tradition that was at risk of being lost.

Today, with the support of international organizations, including UN Women, Poty leads audiovisual workshops for Indigenous communities. In an interview with Mongabay, she speaks about her experience as a juror in last year’s Echoes Festival, which took short films by Indigenous directors to London and Paris.

“After over 20 years working with Indigenous topics, today we can talk about anything we want,” Poty says. “Just the fact that we have occupied these spaces as Indigenous bodies means that we can circulate in a natural way. Not only in ethnographic spaces, but also in entertainment and art film. I want to be there to talk about my work, my creative process.”

Aside from directing the documentary Falas da Terra (Words from the Earth), which was broadcast nationally on TV Globo in 2023, Poty also co-directed the Netflix series Cidade Invisível (Invisible City) about a detective played by Marco Pigossi who comes into contact with elements of Brazilian folklore. The plot, which reached a broad audience, dealt with themes related to national identity from a perspective that was far from didactic.

Poty inspires young people in the workshops she gives in the Pankararu Territory in the state of Pernambuco where she has lived for 11 years. She says that art frees people and is able to cross borders: “Our takeaway from these images is the possibility that what is ours will continue to exist. It is a composite showing how to build a more egalitarian society. In the end, images are extremely political.”

This story was reported by Mongabay’s Brazil team and first published here on our Brazil site on Jan. 9, 2023.

Matheus Lopes Quirino
Matheus Lopes Quirino
  Matheus Lopes Quirino is a culture and arts journalist and writer, based in São Paulo, publishes texts in the newspaper 'O Estado de S. Paulo'
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