'Antonio and Piti,' Film Screened at Lenfest this Month

Rakesh Palisetty
February 28, 2020

Antonio and Piti screened at Lenfest Center for the Arts earlier this month as part of the Year of Water initiative at Columbia. Antonio and Piti is co-directed by Vincent Carelli and Wewito Piyãko and is produced by Vídeo nas Aldeias collective. While introducing the film, Carelli joked, “My last film was about a genocide. This one fortunately is a love story.”

Vincent Carelli is a video producer with the Centro de Trabalho Indigenista in Sao Paulo, Brazil. This group works to bring an understanding of the power of TV technology to indigenous peoples as an empowering tool in their fight to preserve their lands and ways of life. The Video in the Villages Project is an ongoing series that grew out of the frustrating experiences the native Brazilian Waiãpi had with ethnographic film and video shoots in their villages. Initiated in 1985, the project has had a profound effect on native image and self image, inter-tribal relations, and relations with white institutions. “Carelli has been and is an ally of the indigenous people in a complicated and risky time, especially now,” said Maria Fantinato Geo de Siqueira, a PhD student in Ethnomusicology, as she introduced the event. 

The love story Carelli spoke about is between a Peruvian-born indigenous man and the daughter of Chico Coló, a white rubber tapper soldier. The film looks into this marriage, the lives of the Ashaninka people and the children born out of the marriage, who played a special role in the political landscape of the community. The marriage wasn’t without trouble. Piti’s parents were against it because she was white and was treated as an outsider. But Antonio and Piti remained undeterred in their love for each other. The story is set along the Amônia River near the border of Brazil and Peru, where both indigenous Ashaninka people and white settlers live in the municipality of Marechal Thaumaturgo. 

The film was received with enthusiastic applause from the audience and was followed by a conversation between co-director Carelli and Film and Media Studies Professor Esther Hamburger. When Hamburger asked why he decided to tell this story, Carelli said: “I always admired the woman and the story of this marriage, so after a long time I decided.” According to Carelli, Piti was very shy and it took her eight years to decide to let him tell her story. She finally decided to speak to him when Antonio was suspected of having prostate cancer and Carelli paid for the doctor. “You helped me, so now I’m going to help you and tell my story,” Carelli recalls Piti saying to him. Antonio and Piti is an interesting story not just because of the rarity of the marriage but also because of how special her children are in the community. One is a shaman, another a pop star of the environment movement, and one is the first ‘Indian’ mayor of a white village. 

The film was shot over a course of almost 30 years, 1988-2016. Contemporary footage is mixed with archival footage and includes three hundred and twenty hours of footage from three decades. The funding for this project came from different places but was mostly supported by international organizations. They also received help from the Brazilian government, which in an effort to promote Brazilian culture started sponsoring indigenous projects for the first time. 

Carelli also organized filmmaking workshops and equipment for the Ashaninka people so they could film themselves. He started filming the Ashaninka people and showed the films to these same people, while filming their reactions. He wanted to explore the indigenous culture but also their relationship to the culture. He once filmed a ritual that was performed by the Ashaninka people and showed it to them. “They redid and reinvented the traditional ritual because it didn’t look good,” he said of their reaction. He continued, “Culture is alive and always reinventing itself.”

When asked how he navigated being a foreigner in that place by an audience member, Carelli said: “Secret is time.” He spent a long time creating relationships and friendships. He had to build intimacy till he was no longer a foreigner. He was then asked who his intended audience was for this film, to which he replied: “This film was for Piti and her family. The first audience is the community itself, so the new generation can think for itself.” But like many great love stories, Antonio and Piti has a growing audience that’s continually expanding. The film shows us all how to live and deal with nature, together. There’s hope in the story between Antonio and Piti, a story forged against all odds with love.