One of my favorite docs of the year is The Territory by Alex Pritz. This brilliant film depicts the conflict between Indigenous inhabitants of the Brazilian Amazon and pioneering settlers hoping to profit from the land.
If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend watching now on Disney+. It’s in the running for an Oscar this year and has cleaned up across major festivals, including Sundance.
As a DP and director, I am of course fascinated by the making of a film of this scope. Alex Pritz did double duty on this film - directing and shooting The Territory and crafting an incredibly well-thought out narrative along the way. I wasn’t too surprised to learn that Pritz shot the film on Sony cameras, starting production with the FS7 and then switching to FX6 and FX9 when they came available.
Many people assume that all docs are shot in a run/gun way, but I appreciated hearing how Pritz was intentional with his cinematography to reflect the different perspectives that each character had for the land.
“Understanding these perspective differences and illustrating them through the film’s cinematography was the central creative challenge in shooting this film. For scenes involving Indigenous participants, we often shot handheld and employed a loose and fluid aesthetic on wider focal lengths. When shooting with the farmer/settlers, we would frequently switch to a tripod with a longer zoom lens to build a more mechanical feeling to our cinematography.” - Alex Pritz
The film was shot over several years, but always recorded in Sony slog3. This allowed Pritz and his colorist to further distinguish the characters by creating specific looks for each so audiences could be more deeply immersed in the worlds of the protagonists and antagonists.
Decolonizing the Documentary
Another thing to point out (spoiler alert!) is that this film was a collaboration between Pritz and the indigenous community. Indigenous cinematographers were trained and empowered to shoot much of the film themselves, lending an intimacy, authenticity, and sense of ownership of their story. I personally would like to see this mode of storytelling and collaboration far more often. It is an effort to decolonize the documentary process and use our skills as filmmakers in the service of collaboration and facilitation of telling other people’s stories.
There is a lot more to learn from Pritz in this great article from Filmmaker Magazine. Definitely worth a read. And please go watch this important film!
Thanks for sharing this, Danny! I have moved "The Territory" to the top of my queue. I've heard the phrase "participatory" documentary for this method of allowing the subjects to participate in the filmmaking, and I think that's a brilliant approach to decolonize documentary as you put it! Going to read the Filmmaker article now.
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