Denise Zmekhol on the Making of Children of the Amazon

Posted on April 14, 2010

Children of the Amazon (airing this month on public television and Link TV -- check local listings) follows filmmaker Denise Zmekhol as she travels a modern highway deep into the Amazon in search of the indigenous children she photographed 15 years before. Her journey tells the story of what happened to life in the largest forest on Earth when a road was built straight through its heart. Beyond the Box caught up with Zmekhol who shares her story about the making of Children of the Amazon, one of the few films about the Brazilian Amazon made by a Brazilian filmmaker.

I traveled to the Brazilian Amazon on several occasions between 1987-1990 to assist on television documentaries. During my journeys, I had the opportunity to visit many indigenous and rubber tapper communities, always with my camera by my side. What caught my eye were the children. Born to parents who had relied on the rainforest for their survival, these children were growing up surrounded by new ways -- ways that were destroying the forest. 

I also photographed the legendary rubber tapper Chico Mendes and his family. Chico had become renowned the world over for his nonviolent resistance movement to protect the rainforest. Fifteen years later -- and a world away -- I returned to these slides, which were never printed, never shared. The images brought back a particularly searing memory: a phone call from Chico in December 1988, asking me to film his funeral. Two weeks later he was shot dead by a rancher. Stirred by faces of the children in my photographs and haunted by Chico’s untimely death, I was inspired to travel to the Amazon again -- this time, to make Children of the Amazon.

 In 2008, six years after I shot Children of the Amazon, I returned to the Amazon to film with the Surui tribe again -- this time documenting its unique collaboration with Google Earth Outreach. The partnership, a result of Chief Almir Surui’s request that Google help raise visibility for his tribe, involves training the Surui people to use Internet technology to protect their forest, preserve their culture, and empower their people. —Denise Zmekhol, Producer/Director of Children of the Amazon Get broadcast listings for public television and Link TV and learn more at


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