When Two Worlds Collide

In Films by James Hay - Cinema Editor

When Two Worlds Collide is a film that shines a shockingly bright light into the murky shadows cast by the institutional forces that govern this world.

If you thought you knew how things were run and that they were run in a nice way then watch this film and think again. A story of greed, exploitation and governmental corruption and deceit, Heidi Brandenburg and Mathew Orzel’s powerful documentary reveals the two sides to the story surrounding the political crisis in Peru in 2009, which ultimately resulted in a chaotic and deadly clash in June of that year.

In a nutshell, the film presents the narrative that the Peruvian government, led by divisive President Alan Garcia, made trade deals with US corporations to bring commerce to the country by exploiting its abundant natural fossil fuel resources. However, the areas within which those natural resources reside are inhabited by the indigenous people of Peru, who oppose the sale of these lands to foreign business. Garcia and his government claimed that the resources belonged to all of Peru and that the natives were holding back the growth of their nation. The natives, led by talismanic Alberto Pizango, stated that passing laws to sell the land without consulting the indigenous people who inhabited them was unconstitutional.

What ensued was a war of propaganda culminating in a protest of civil disobedience by thousands of the native people, consisting of road blocks and picketing, lasting 65 days in 2009. The government refused to meet the demands of the natives, to repeal the laws, and finally had to send in military force to disband the protest and reopen the roads and refineries. What happened next was a tragic loss of life on both sides but it remains unclear who drew first blood. What is known is the natives had spears and the police forces had guns.

Brandenburg and Orzel try to present the facts with an even keel but, from the hypnotically sumptuous opening shots in the Amazon jungle, are firmly on the side of Pizango and the indigenous people. In a way, it’s hard not to be. It’s their land, where they live, and the government is deforesting and exploiting that land at great cost to the natural ecosystem and those who live there. A leaking crude oil pipe in the middle of the rainforest, rupturing acrid black death to any local wildlife and contaminating the water supply, clearly tells its own tale. But, as the film progresses and Pizango becomes more of a central figure, appearing on prime-time news and media broadcasts, a tense suspicion is felt all around him. Did he instigate the violence? Is he politically motivated or just doing what his people want? There is one moment where he clearly says that his people must defend their lands against a foreign invader, as is their traditional law. This could more than easily be construed as instruction to war. The fact that a mob mentality, in the face of and, possibly, in retaliation to the disproportional use of force by the police, led to utter chaos and a lack of control of the native tribesmen, was possibly more than he could have factored for but also maybe what he felt was necessary to ensure they were not lied to and walked all over again. The film cuts a fine line between taking sides but in so doing leaves an air of ambiguity hanging over the events of June, 2009, in Peru.

Maybe only a handful of people know the truth behind what really happened, who attacked first and why, on that fateful day but it is rendered largely irrelevant. The bottom line appears to be that the government would not listen to its own people and chose instead a road towards profit and gain allied to US corporate interests. They turned fellow Peruvian against fellow Peruvian and allowed, if not directly ordered, them to kill one another. All because of the exploitation of fossil fuels and the profits they can yield. How many times could that story be told around the world?

This greed for exploiting what can be found naturally occurring inside the Earth for short term financial gains, with no thought or pause for the long term impact that such an aggressive exploitation process may have, is not only outdated and unnecessary, but once you know these things to be true, insane.

Yet another sickening look at institutional capitalist greed. No conspiracy theory here. Just deceit and murder. President Garcia, as the closing credits tell us, is looking to run for the Presidency again. Alberto Pizango, by contrast, is currently standing trial and facing a life sentence for sedition. The little guy never wins. But you don’t expect him to be murdered in the process. When Two Worlds Collide isn’t just a documentary exposing the deadly consequences of standing up to government in South America, and by proxy Northern America and the indefatigable Western Capitalist Machine, but a scathing attack on the oil industry in general, and specifically its environmental impact, whilst also serving a stark reminder of class, wealth and political divide the world over. So, quite a lot packed into 103 minutes. And neatly done at that.