Last year was a big one for indigenous representation. Films like El abrazo de la serpiente (Embrace of the Serpent), Ixcanul (Volcano), and Dauna: Lo que lleva el río not only had strong showings on the international festival and awards circuit, but they also mark a generational shift in the way filmmakers represent indigenous lives. Gone are the days when indigenous people were shown as pure, uncorrupt victims of Western greed, or helpless savages in desperate need of civilization. Instead, these films show the complexity of life for individuals caught between their traditional cultures and the inescapable thrust of modernity.
And it seems this trend is not abating. Thus far, 2016’s festival docket has brought yet another worthy exploration of indigenous life in the form of the Brazilian feature Antes o tempo não acabava (Time Was Endless), by Sergio Andrade and Fabio Baldo, which premiered on February 18, 2016 at the Berlin Film Festival. The film dramatizes the story of Anderson: a young man from the Tikuna indigenous community who leaves the Amazon for the city of Manaus, where he encounters an agitated lifestyle of forbidden pleasures and unfamiliar dangers. Back home a tribal elder is convinced that by performing one last ritual, he will be able to bring the Anderson back into the fold.
The film’s trailer gives a sense of how Andrade and Baldo tackle this subject with a documentary realist style that counterposes the hypnotic stillness of indigenous ritual with the chaos and tumult of life in the city. The use of a ritualistic percussion soundtrack gives the whole ordeal the feeling of a fever dream as we watch Anderson navigate a complex world of tradition and modernity that doesn’t seem to have any clear or simple resolution.