“My Hope Is That These Amazonian Voices Are Heard”: Editor Carlos Rojas Felice on The Territory
The Territory, which highlights ongoing conflicts in the Amazon between its Indigenous inhabitants and Brazilian politicians and businessmen, was co-produced by the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau community. The film thus grants first-hand views of the conflict, from the frequent invasions to the Indigenous peoples’ establishing of their own media team to broadcast their side of the story. Editor Carlos Rojas Felice explains how he retained the film’s environmentalist themes while highlighting the opposing views of the various players.
Filmmaker: How and why did you wind up being the editor of your film? What were the factors and attributes that led to your being hired for this job?
Rojas Felice: I was approached by Alex quite early in the process. We met for dinner and immediately clicked. I was very interested in the film and had always wanted to edit a film in Portuguese. We just weren’t sure the timing would work, as I was in the middle of editing a documentary series.
In the end our timelines worked, surprisingly, perfectly. I was able to jump right into the edit. I think what led to being hired was the ease with which Alex and I communicated upon meeting. I was very receptive to his enthusiasm for the film because I also saw its potential. I knew we’d be great collaborators. It also helped that I’m fluent in Portuguese.
Filmmaker: In terms of advancing your film from its earliest assembly to your final cut, what were your goals as an editor? What elements of the film did you want to enhance, or preserve, or tease out or totally reshape?
Rojas Felice: The main goal in the edit from first assembly to final cut was, as it often is, to find each of our character’s voices. We wanted to make their motivations clear, and to create a clear arc for each of their stories, focusing on the urgency of their individual situations. I wanted to creatively show the complicated relationship our characters have with the land relative to their world view. Another challenge was for the film to retain its strong environmental core while really focusing on the human stories of people living in this region of Brazil.
Filmmaker: How did you achieve these goals? What types of editing techniques, or processes, or feedback screenings allowed this work to occur?
Rojas Felice: I believe we achieved our goals through lots of collaboration, conversations, and ultimately a fearless approach to the edit. We began playing it very safe, relying on archival and voiceovers, but after many conversations and feedback from trusted collaborators, we began to approach the edit more boldly. Alex had shot fantastic vérité, and I began to lean into it more and more. Through this approach to our vérité, I was able to explore and highlight characters that initially were supporting voices. In the end they elevated the story by deepening the nuances present in the film.
Filmmaker: As an editor, how did you come up in the business, and what influences have affected your work?
Rojas Felice: I began my work as an editor in graduate school. I studied Media Studies at The New School and quickly fell in love with editing. I worked on scripted non-fiction television for a while before working as an assistant editor for a large animation studio. While working in animation, I always kept one foot in documentary film since it was always clear to me that’s where my home was. I assisted on various documentary projects in the evenings and weekends while working full time in animation. Eventually I decided to make the full jump into documentary film. This took years of mentorship from very dear colleagues and support and encouragement from the folks at the Sundance Edit and Story lab, where I participated as a collaborating editor twice.
Filmmaker: What editing system did you use, and why?
Rojas Felice: We edited the film in Adobe Premiere, mainly because the project had already been organized in the program and teasers and sizzle reels had been cut in premiere.
Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to cut and why? And how did you do it?
Rojas Felice: The character introductions were very challenging to calibrate and took a group effort to get just right. However, I’d say the toughest scene for me was the first invasion and immediate aftermath. We were working with limited footage from the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau’s perspective for the first invasion, and this was a key scene in setting the stakes for the rest of the film. It took lots of versions and trial-and-error, but by focusing on the actual invasion and having the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau’s reaction be a shorter scene, we were able to maintain the momentum without sacrificing clarity in the Indigenous reaction during the aftermath.
Filmmaker: What role did VFX work, or compositing, or other post-production techniques play in terms of the final edit?
Rojas Felice: Finally, now that the process is over, what new meanings has the film taken on for you? What did you discover in the footage that you might not have seen initially, and how does your final understanding of the film differ from the understanding that you began with?
I always watch footage trying to understand my characters’ humanity. Only when I can see this can I begin to edit them. In such a complicated film, with opposing sides and world views, this was quite challenging. However, I saw truth in all the characters, and from that truth I began to understand their world view. I also learned that the fight for land in the Amazon is a historic and ongoing conflict that doesn’t have an easy solution, but that it’s also not a hopeless war for land. I think the film clearly shows us that a combination of putting the market before human lives and the continuous weakening of government institutions that protect the forest and its people have created these conditions for conflict. My hope is that these Amazonian voices are heard and that the world understands the complexity of the local conflict and its repercussions on our planet as a whole.