«You can have the rich life; I prefer the cheap one,» laughs a fisherman, clearly in no thrall to the allure of city ways as he sorts a net’s thrashing, a mound-high haul of octopi, fish, and crustaceans. He is a member of one of the few surviving communities of Caiçara, traditional inhabitants of the southeastern coast of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, which stands only in remnants after massive deforestation for timber, cattle ranching, and the construction of cities over five centuries of colonisation.
Descended from indigenous Tupinambá Indians, colonisers from Portugal, and escaped slaves from Africa, the Caiçara live on trapping animals, fishing, and sustainable agriculture, and face ever-greater pressure from real estate speculation and violent intervention at the hands of the government. A lack of access to education and the criminalisation of practices based on traditional knowledge (hunting is now illegal, and fishing is regulated by environmental agencies) is compounding the push to move into the cities. Beyond roads, they lived in relative isolation until recently, though Rio de Janeiro is only fifteen miles away. Brazilian director Emilia Mello sets out most of this factual information only at the end of her debut feature documentary No Kings, just before the credits roll. For most of the film, which has its world premiere at CPH:DOX in Copenhagen, she prefers to simply immerse us in the rhythms of the life of the community.
No Kings is a dynamic and poetic drift of a portrait, that feels guided by the romance of the idea that there are free enclaves that still exist, holding on, in a planet of aggressive capitalist encroachment teetering on the verge of environmental collapse. There is no air of inevitable doom, as Mello gently alights on sparks of vitality and the innocence …
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