There's an opening overhead shot of the Brazilian rain forest, dense and limitless. As a tourist boat slides along a river, indigenous tribesmen materialize on the banks to regard it reproachfully. They hold bows and arrows and don't seem fond of these visitors. But hold on; one of the young men has a layered haircut with a blond top.
As recently as the 1970s, when Herzog filmed "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" in such a forest, these Indians would have been "real." But the time is the present, and the forest a preserved facade shielding fields that have been stripped of trees and devoted to farming. If they want, the Indians can pile into a truck and hire out as day laborers. But all of their traditions center on the forest and its spirits, and this new life is alienating. Some simply commit suicide.
This is all true, as we have been told time and again; meanwhile, the Brazilian government remains benevolent toward the destruction of the planet's richest home of life forms and crucial oxygen source. Indians have been stripped of ownership of their ancestral lands and assigned to reservations far from the remains of their parents; it is the same genocide the United States practiced, for those with power in Brazil have not developed a conscience in the years since.
Marco Bechis' "Birdwatchers," now receiving its U.S. premiere at Facets Cinematheque, is a ground-level drama involving a Guarani tribe that packs up one day, leaves "its" federal land, and builds shelters of tree limbs and plastic sheets on farmland that once was the tribe's. This goes down badly with the farmer, who with his family lives in a spacious home with a pool and (Indian) servants.