Expelling an Oil Company, “Sarayaku” Shares Amazonian Tale of Resistance

Marta Bautis on a foot bridge in Puyo, Ecuadar.

As ongoing development continues to change the landscape of St. John, residents will get a chance this week to learn about a community which chose to turn its back on what some called “progress” at the time.

In the second of their filmmaker series, St. John Film Society members are hosting a dinner with filmmaker Marta Bautis on Thursday, February 18, at La Plancha del Mar before the screening of her film “Sarayaku: Rivers of Corn.”

When Bautis made her first trip to the remote Ecuadorian Amazon Kichua community of Sarayaku, she had no idea she would spend the next five years telling the story of its people.


After making the five hour trek by motorized canoe from the nearest town of Puyo, Ecuador, during her second trip to the Amazon, Bautis was so moved by the Sarayaku people, she felt compelled to tell their tale.


What Bautis produced is “Sarayaku: Rivers of Corn,” a poignant 63-minute documentary detailing the struggles of an indigenous people who protected their ancestral land from being invaded by an international oil company in 2002.

“About five years ago, I had been reading more and more and becoming more and more concerned about the environment,” said Bautis. “I was fascinated also by the Amazon rainforest and I wanted to see the big trees before they all disappeared. So I started looking at how I was going to get there.”

“I went first with a tour and then the next year I went back with another tour called Global Exchange,” the filmmaker said. “I went to Sarayaku on my second trip and made connections there. I was so amazed that this community was five hours by boat down the river and yet they were so organized they were able to evict an international oil company.”

During her first time with the Sarayaku people, Bautis was especially taken by the powerful women of the group, she explained.

“I was fascinated how the women were the leaders in the community and how they worked so hard and were so vocal,” said Bautis. “When they spoke up, people listened. I said, ‘I have to tell this story.’”

The seasoned filmmaker, who has produced eight films and teaches film at Ramapo College, returned to Sarayaku several times over the next year and let four women share their own takes on how they expelled the oil company in 2002.

“They actually have internet there thanks to solar panels, so I started to communicate by email with the group,” said Bautis. “It took me a year before they really started to open up to me. I went back and selected four women who really caught my attention.”

The women Bautis features in “Sarayaku” range from an 80-year-old matriarch of the 1,500-strong jungle river community to a 40-something-year-old aspiring lawyer. With a rough version in hand, Bautis returned again to the area to share her film with the community.

“We watched it on this little laptop and we had to wait until light during the day for the electricity,” said Bautis. “I showed it to the group and it was really great. They told me it felt like one of them had filmed it.”

“You see so many films about communities and you see the view from someone from the outside,” said the filmmaker. “It was a really big compliment and a great experience. I felt like I was part of the community.”

Since wrapping up editing of the film, most of Bautis’ time has been taken up by teaching full time and starting an expansive new project. She is just getting “Sarayaku” distributed recently and will have copies of the film available for sale on St. John.

All proceeds from the sale of “Sarayaku” will go toward an alternative healing circle being established in the Kichua community. For more information on Bautis or her work, check out her website www.tiempoazul.org.

Join Bautis and St. John Film Society members on February 18 for dinner at La Plancha at 5:30 p.m. or just watch “Sarayaku” at 7 p.m. at The Marketplace. For reservations for dinner call 777-7333.