AVATAR SHOOTING A MESSAGE TO OBAMA
From from O Globo
Portuguese version here.
James Cameron: "I will take a letter from the Indians for Obama."
Marília Martins - Correspondent
NEW YORK - The Canadian filmmaker James Cameron, 55, director of "Titanic" and "Avatar" and the biggest box-office record in history of cinema to date, came into the campaign against the plant's construction of Belo Monte, after visiting the Kayapo Indians in the region of Altamira, in northeastern Pará He attended a meeting of 80 leaders of indigenous communities in Brazil and received from them the request to deliver a letter to Presidents Lula and Obama.
Cameron held a special screening of his film in New York as part of the sessions of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Rights of the UN. And he gave this exclusive interview to O Globo about his visits to Brazil and his research on the problems of Amazonian tribes.
O GLOBO: How was your experience in the Amazon rainforest?
JAMES CAMERON: It was fantastic. I visited Brazil twice. I was invited by an NGO, Amazon Watch, which works in the Amazon and that led me to Manaus and they informed me about ecological issues in the region. This made me aware of the problems of indigenous communities. They told me about the dam construction. I asked them to give me much information so I could see up close the problems, and could talk about them. I went to Altamira and found a large Indian community. They were having a meeting, there were 80 tribal leaders who came together to discuss issues that were causing most concern, including hydroelectric.
And what did the Indian leaders say?
CAMERON: First, I was excluded from the process, after all, they had no idea who I was. And I traveled over ten hours by boat to find them ... Then they ended up inviting me to join the discussion and talked with me for four hours. They spoke of how they were alarmed by the construction of Belo Monte because they would lose control over their lands, biological life in the rivers would be degraded, it could no longer rise to the level to fish. They explained that the dam will cause irreparable damage to the ecosystem. They will no longer be able to fish or hunt, will lose their land. They are fighting for more than 20 years against this dam. And they are willing to continue the fight against this construction and die, if necessary, to prevent this from happening. This message was very powerful for me.
Was the conversation was only with the Indians?
CAMERON: No. I also talked with scientists who studied the environment of the Amazon for many years. I have read many studies about the effects of the dam on the seasonal cycles of the region, the flow of rivers, on the estimates of production of 11,000 megawatts that can turn just 3000 megawatts in over half of the year because of the ecological effects [the dry season]. And I think this is a low production for the $R 16 (9.2 USD) billion that the project will cost [the government estimate has been revised to $R 19.6 (11.2 USD) billion and the private sector is $R 30 (17.2 USD) billion]. That is, I learned that Belo Monte is inefficient from the standpoint of a cost-benefit analysis. I repeat: I'm just repeating here what I was told by Brazilian environmental organizations such as the Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA) and other groups such as Conservation International.
But there is an energy crisis in Brazil and Belo Monte is one option to ensure energy supply.
CAMERON: Yes, there is an energy crisis and the country needs to increase energy production to sustain its growth, to supply the major cities. But do not think the dam is the answer to this crisis. And you know why? Because the energy of Belo Monte will not supply the cities. It will be directed to the aluminum industry, it will supply multinational companies such as Alcoa. ... Brazilian taxpayers will be subsidizing this industry with their tax benefits that do not even benefit the local population and the profits still go overseas. I think this is shocking! I think that most Brazilians do not know that.
Do you think there is little debate in Brazil about Belo Monte?
CAMERON: I think the whole process is not transparent. The debate did not involve the communities who will lose their homes and their land, the benefits of construction will not be allocated to these communities, do not include the 25,000 Indians who are in the region. And the benefits will not go either to the Brazilian people, who are paying taxes. Who gave the political permission to do this? The profits go to the banks and for foreign companies! Does this makes sense?
But we must find solution to the current Brazilian energy crisis ...
CAMERON: This is a problem that concerns not only Brazil but the whole world. The solutions to the energy crisis must be global because the crisis is worldwide and is the result of misguided energy policies. The solution should be in terms of renewable energy. Brazil has three times more solar energy than Germany and yet, for some reason I do not understand, Germany is the world leader in solar energy. How is this possible? Because the rivers of Brazil are seen as a kind of stream of gold which feeds the country and connects its regions. But I will use a strong metaphor: if the Brazilian rivers are the arteries that bring life to the nation, building dams is putting fats into the arteries: this will eventually lead to strokes and heart attacks. The dam is not the right answer! Rivers are a very fundamental and very important for Brazil, but they must flow to get through life. Rivers can not be blocked for damaging the environment. And I do not want anyone to just take my word: I ask that you seek sources of [scientific] information.
You spoke with Brazilian government officials?
CAMERON: I had the impression that the Brazilian government does not want information along Belo Monte lines. I sent a letter to Lula asking a meeting with him or with someone of his energy team. But I had no answer. Still waiting. I would love to talk with the Brazilian government, to hear the other side, but was very careful with all the information I collected and I'm commenting here. You're now at a UN event on ecology. What is your agenda as a militant in defense of a green economy?
CAMERON: I have an agenda. I'm not trying to make more money with "Avatar." The film is already a success. I'm not a businessman. My goal is to be faithful to my conscience, my sense of ethics as a human being. I want to make this world better for my children. I have five children and they are all very aware of these problems. I see a lot of denial, a lot of alienation, and I also see that there is an urgent need to act, to face challenges and prevent a global catastrophe because of global warming.
But you know that the U.S. is the biggest polluter on the planet, along with China, and that Brazil has one of the greenest on the planet. Brazil has moved its fleet to alcohol and as a matrix of the least-polluting energy production in the world.
CAMERON: Sure! I know it! I'm not accusing anyone. The U.S. is a big polluter and historically made many mistakes, and a time when these catastrophic effects were not known. And we have much to do here. But I think the Amazon rainforest is vital for Brazil and for the world and I think the U.S. should contribute to its conservation, including helping economically. I know there are economic forces working against it.
What organizations do you consider to be heard in this debate?
CAMERON: All the environmental organizations. You see, my concern is that the Brazilian people be well informed. There seems to be a case. I know that Brazil is a democracy and if the Brazilian people consider that the construction of this plant is a good deal, we'll all accept. But I think the Brazilian people are not being well informed about what is behind the construction of this dam. The people I met in Brazil have a great sensitivity to the ecology. The country has a wonderful forest, a treasure trove of biodiversity, the Brazilians are happy people, friendly, welcoming, [full of] good-will. One of the forest people of my film was directly inspired by the Brazilian Kayapo. The Amazon was a source of inspiration for my story and when I was researching I found that indigenous issues were not a thing of the past but the present. I found that there still happen massacres of entire communities. I want to make a 3D documentary about the Kayapo Indians and their struggle against the dam.
And you also work to educate Americans?
CAMERON: Sure! I think this is a global issue that people need to pressure their governments to fight global warming, to respect the rights of indigenous peoples, to bring this matter to a truly global debate, so that people are educated not to pollute and to respect the environment and require of their leaders a position of defense of ecology. In the U.S., we have much work before there is awareness, of course.! Therefore, I decided to work to expand the debate, bring the matter to whom I can take, for whom I have access. Therefore, I want to talk with President Lula and I decided to have dinner in Washington with Marina Silva, who is a candidate for the Green Party in Brazil. And I will also meet with President Obama. The Kayapo Indians and other indigenous leaders handed me a letter pretty much talking about their problems [that] I intend to deliver a letter to President Obama. I think he can broaden the debate, the issue can lead to discussions about global warming at the UN.