This film by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Nigel Noble documents the workaday
lives of Brazilian peasants who cut down trees in the Amazon rain forest and burn the
wood in earthen kilns to make charcoal, an essential ingredient for the manufacture of pig
iron in the U.S. These "charcoal people," including children as young as five, live and
work in appalling conditions in a toxic environment with no sanitation or potable drinking
water. The film graphically details the primitive process of making charcoal, by burning
wood in clay ovens, which has not changed since the early nineteenth century. The
workers are systematically subjugated by debt, since they are charged more for their food
than they receive in wages. The laborers and their families discuss the backbreaking and
dangerous work, which involves the despoliation of their natural surroundings, and we
witness the toll it takes on their own health and the global environment.
Directed by Nigel Noble
1999, 68 minutes
Purchase: $310 Classroom Rental: $125
"Oscar and Emmy winner Nigel Noble's powerful documentary offers a close look at migrant workers who spend their entire lives laboring in the forest, their bodies covered in gray ash, their minds robbed of education. Noble manages to make this portrait of cyclical, endless poverty grimly beautiful, his stunning images having an indelible print in one's memory…This engrossing portrait is a humanist and political revelation, and given its comparatively low price for an ethnographic documentary, is recommended" (Video Librarian).
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