Jul 19th 2010
You think you loved Avatar? Well there's no way your ardor could have matched the near-obsession of the few movie watchers who live the film every day of their lives.
The Peruvian Amazon is about as close to Pandora as can possibly exist on this planet and in June, the 3-D phenomenon finally made it to the Amazon port city, Iquitos -- a metropolis of about 700,000 reachable only by plane and boat. This was long after the Academy Awards, but the film was an instant hit with the folks who live in the rainforest and were able to canoe upriver to see the blockbuster in Iquitos' only movie theater.
While most of the Amazon's residents couldn't make it , the ones who did opted to see the film again and again and are anxious for James Cameron to make a sequel that sheds more light on the plight of natural environments like the one that they live in.
Julio Parano Garcia, a rainforest guide with the Explorama lodge, from a small village on the Ucayali river, spends nearly everyday educating foreigners about the forest. He saw the movie reluctantly at the urging of his wife and daughter. It is now his favorite flick.
"I could identify with that spiritual world. It reminds me of how the rainforest is supposed to be owned by the indigenous people and how the intruders are trying to change their life and make it a different world," Garcia said.
For him, the jungle's signature ceiba tree (a structure strikingly similar to the Tree of Life in the movie) represents a Pandora unto itself.
"For me the ceiba tree is Pandora. It is an ecosystem all it's own, you have birds nesting, monkeys hiding, wasps, bats, snakes, insects all in one place, living together, interconnected."
Garcia recalls a story he heard from a friend of his (a tale that has the underpinnings of a local urban legend more than village gossip), the message of which echoes Cameron's sentiments in the movie where the plot centers on greedy Corporate developers destroying the forest for it's natural resources.
"My friend was a man who cut firewood. One day he found a huge ceiba tree and he said he would make a fortune by cutting this tree down. He built a platform in the middle of the tree and when he laid down to take a break he had a dream. In the dream all the animals, the monkeys and the bats and the birds came and tried to strangulate him and they asked why are you taking our home? He then realized that the tree was the world and the tree was alive and he took down his platform and became a protector of the tree," Garcia said.
From glow in the dark fungus (mycena), to birds with claws on their wings and spiked plumes that make them look like flying dragons (the hoatzin), hot pink freshwater dolphins and gigantic blue butterflies the size of your head (the morpho), the Peruvian Amazon is indeed a little like Pandora without the necessity of 3-D glasses.
"The things you see in the movie, they are real here," said Amazon native and guide Cliver Riojas, who also saw the film in Iquitos last month. "Sometimes we take too much from nature without realizing how much we hurt nature. Nature is what provides us life, medicine and a place to survive. For many centuries many people survived without western world and the western world brings mostly good things, but for the jungle it brings some things that are bad. "Avatar" shows us how important it is to preserve the culture. The people of the Amazon have so much to share with the world about their medicine and life, peace and language and we need to preserve that. Another film will help to show people how important it is to preserve it."
Both Garcia and Rioja are hungry for more of Cameron's "Avatar" message, because it teaches people about the importance of conservation and could just save their livelihoods.
"When we live down here we don't think our world is disappearing because we can't see it form the outside, but scientists who look at the rainforest through satellites tell us that they can see it is disappearing and someday our life and out history will be gone forever. If Mr. Cameron makes another movie and everyone goes to see it again, maybe the message will start to sink in," Garcia said.