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The shrinking land of the people of lightning

Short film is a valuable self-produced document of the lives of the Avá Guarani

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The 52-minute film ‘Ava Yvy Vera – The Land of The Lightning’s People’ (Brazil, 2016) takes us into the lives of a group of Guarani-Kaiowá, who call themselves Avá, in the region of Mato Grosso do Sul near the Paraguayan border. In each filmic chapter, different members of the community explain how they co-exist with nature and with those who threaten their existence, making their lives ever more precarious. It is the work of 10 Avá co-producers, formed out of workshops taking place in 2014 and 2016.


Ava Yvy Vera was selected as part of the first Brazil Indigenous Film Festival UK organised by People’s Palace Projects (Queen Mary University London). It formed part of the strand called Oral, Film and History, a four-film selection in which Parakanã, Guarani-Nhandewa and Guarani-Kaiowá filmmakers document and celebrate Indigenous communities’ historical, social and philosophical perspectives.

The Kaiowá are the largest group of the Guarani, one of Brazil’s most numerous indigenous tribes. Despite their numbers, and their constitutional rights, they have gradually been losing their traditional land, especially since the 1980s.

The result can be seen at the start of the film, when fields of soya are shown, while off-camera an Avá describes how this mono-culture has replaced the forest, and damaged its delicate variety of plants and medicines. He talks about the karai, who make money out of the crop and who send gunmen to their lands. He points out a remaining tree, useful for getting a better signal when he wants to contact FUNAI.

FUNAI (the National Indian Foundation) is the government body responsible for protecting lands traditionally inhabited by people like the Avá. The support this group were receiving when the film was made has supposedly now been reduced, after drastic changes were made to FUNAI by Temer, and again following the arrival of Bolsonaro.

The film takes us through a series of mini-stories. Some people speak to the camera; others describe their actions as they move, explaining how they hide in the forest. At other times, we simply observe people’s everyday lives on the margins, with traditional values clearly observed in the everyday. Take a school lesson, where the children, at their school desks, learn about traditional music and dance with their animated teacher all in traditional clothing.

It is clear that the community are facing serious threats. Several people describe killings, one recounting the death of eight people at a sacred site. Two men are shown putting up a shelter to hide in, saying they have returned for the third time and will stay. Another man shows how he uses disguise to hide in the forest while another explains that they will never truly live the white man’s way of life, even if they speak Portuguese well. A woman describes how their traditional way of life, moving around, occupying a series of temporary homes, became more difficult after the karai arrived.

The film finishes with a traditional ceremony, or kotyhu. With lightning flashing in the night sky, an Avá talks about entering a place where there is endless lightning and hearing his father’s chant reverberating from the very top of the sky. 

The story is told from the subjects’ point of view, making the film a most valuable document. Given the wider story of what now amounts to ‘Kaiowcide’, this film gives a much-needed voice to a people struggling – or as one of them says, ‘getting up day after day to bring back everything we have lost’.


Ava Yvy Vera – The Land of The Lightning’s People (dir. Genito Gomes, Valmir Gonçalves Cabreira, Johnaton Gomes, Joilson Brites, Johnn Nara Gomes, Sarah Brites, Dulcídio Gomes e Edna Ximenes), was screened during the first Brazil Indigenous Film Festival UK, by People ‘s Palace Projects. You can follow the group on Instagram or Facebook

The ICA will be showing the full Oral, Film and History programme twice from this Friday 29 October. See more here: https://www.ica.art/films/oral-film-and-history

  • Ava Yvy Vera – The Land of the People of Lightning (A Terra do Povo do Raio)
  • Tekowenhepyrun_ The Origin of the Soul (A Origem da Alma)
  • Free Land Camp (ATL – Acampamento Terra Livre)02
  • Topawa
  • Dream of Fire (Sonho de Fogo)
  • Nũhũ Yãg Mũ Yõg Hãm_ This Land Is Our Land! (Nũhũ Yãg Mũ Yõg Hãm_ Essa Terra É Nossa!)
  • Konãgxeka_ The Maxakali Flood (Konãgxeka_ o Dilúvio Maxakali)
  • Tatakox
  • Log Race (Corrida de Tora)
  • Free Land Camp (ATL – Acampamento Terra Livre)
  • Equilibrium (Equilíbrio)
  • Zawxiperkwer Ka’a – Guardians of the Forest (Guardiões da Floresta)
  • The Celebration of Spirits (A Festa Dos Encantados)
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