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Review: Ex Pajé (Ex Shaman)
by Rose Finlay

Luiz Bolognesi, Brazil

In 1969, the lives of the Paiter Suruí people radically changed. An isolated indigenous group of the Amazon Basin, before 1969 they had never come in contact with the wider world. Now, almost fifty years since first contact, they have electricity, cell phones, western clothes, foreign illnesses, and Christianity.

Perpera Suruí is the last shaman of his people, although he does not go by that title any longer. The shamans of the Paiter Suruí were special members of society who were in close contact with the spirits and acted as intermediaries. With the introduction of the church, his people were taught that the spirits were actually devils, and, due to his close association with them, Perpera was ostracized. It was only once he joined the church that he was accepted in society again, and so he lives his life caught between two worlds: the life of his youth with spirits and traditional medicine, and the society which requires him to be the church caretaker for those who rely on outsiders for their spiritual and medical needs.  Every year, the society he grew up in becomes less recognizable as western culture continues to encroach. Facing ethnocide, Perpera struggles with the Sisyphean task of trying to prevent his culture from dying out.

Director Luiz Bolognesi worked extensively with Perpera and other locals to create a docu-fiction film.  There was no script, so they organically created the plot (much of which was based on true events) and the dialogue together, with lots of input from the Paiter Suruí people. For example, the matriarch, Kabena Cinta Larga, insisted that they be seen working, as it is widely believed that indigenous people are lazy and so scenes were incorporated showing them being industrious. Meanwhile, other parts of the film were pure documentary, such as those showing the role of religion and the church in local life. With excellent sound and visual editing, and a compassionate eye for detail, Bolognesi and his team, as well as the local people, created a tragic and thoughtful piece on the present difficulties of many South American indigenous people. To drive home the point of what they are fighting against, it is best described by a quote (referenced in the film) of the jurist and historian Bartolomé Clavero, “Genocide kills people while ethnocide kills social cultures through the killing of individual souls.”