Comissão Rondon, fragmentos de filmes [Rondon Commission film fragments] (1914-?) – Luiz Thomaz Reis*

From the first fragment: an identical shot appears in Luiz Thomaz Reis’ film, Parima, fronteiras do Brasil (1928) where the central figure is identified as the young headman, Ten-ten, probably a Wayampi.

9 mins., b&w, silent

Production : Rondon Commission/ Inspetoria de Fronteiras

Source : Museo do Índio. This footage is also viewable here.

This series of fragments consist primarily, though probably not exclusively, of sequences shot by Luiz Thomaz Reis. A number appear to be from Os Sertões de Matto-Grosso (1915), one of Reis’s earliest films. This now seems to be otherwise definitively  lost, making these fragments particularly valuable. Other fragments are from films of his that are still readily available. The place of all these films within overall trajectory of Reis’s work is indicated in the tentative filmography offered here.

(1) first 2 mins. : this shows a sequence of indigenous people in canoes, followed by a series of portraits taken in a village in the rainforest. These were shot at the same time as  Parima, fronteiras do Brasil (i.e. in 1928 or 1929), the second film that Reis made for the Inspetoria de Fronteiras and which follows General Cândido Rondon as he inspects the frontiers between Brazil and first French Guiana, then Dutch Guiana. Some of these fragments appear in that film, others would appear to be outtakes. All of them appear to relate to the same indigenous community living at the headwaters of the Oiapoque river, on the French Guiana border. They are not specifically named in the intertitles, but given the location of the encounter they are probably Wayampi (see image at the head of this entry). The full film can be viewed here.

(2) 2:00-3:00 mins.: this is a sequence showing two or three men gathering Brazil nuts. They are dressed in the caboclo rather than the indigenous manner. One man cuts open a shell directly in front of the camera, shows the nuts inside and eats one. However, there is no direct evidence that the film-maker in this case was Reis. Nor is it is clear where this sequence was shot, or when. However, as it comes between two fragments that were shot while Reis was working for the Inspetoria de Fronteiras in Roraima in 1927-1929, it is possible that he shot it around the same general time. Certainly, Brazil nuts do grow abundantly in the region.

(3) 3:00-4:25 mins.: this is a sequence showing the exploration of an indigenous burial place located in a cave beneath a large rock. Since many of the shots in the sequence are common to both, it was clearly shot at the same time (August-October 1927) as Reis’ film, Viagem ao Roroimã. This follows an expedition travelling north through the State of Roraima to demarcate Brazil’s borders with the then British Guiana and Venezuela. The intertitles of Reel One of this film identify the site as ‘Monte Maruai’ and explains that a four-man team from New York Museum, headed by a Mr. Tate, also participated in the expedition [Lasmar 2011: 258-259]. One of the men reconstructing the skeletons brought from the cave does indeed appear to be an American.

Distribution of gifts to the Paresí, Utiarity village, probably in January 1914.

(4) 4:25-5:25 mins.: this sequence shows some gifts being handed out to a group of young Paresí (Halíti, Aríti) women, followed by a sequence of three of them pounding vigorously with a large pestle and mortar.  These appear to be the shots that are referred to in intertitles nos. 13 and 3 of Reel 3 of the lost Reis film, Os Sertões de Matto-Grosso [Lasmar 2011: 261] .

They were probably therefore taken at Utiariti, a Paresí village on the upper reaches of the Papagaio river, where there was a Rondon Commission telegraph post and which Reis visited in January 1914. However, there is a complication in that a European appears in shot distributing the gifts in the first of the shots and this seems to be Reis himself. If so, this fragment must have been shot by an assistant.

At this stage of the production of Os Sertões, Reis seems to have been travelling alongside the expedition headed by the former US President, Theodore Roosevelt and guided by Reis’ patron, Colonel Rondon. This would explain the intertitle that appears midway through the fragment, in English and in reverse, which reads “The Roosevelt party gave the women some calico dresses — and they thought it was Christmas”. The fact that this title is in English suggests that the fragment may have been used in a compilation film, Wilderness (1918) which Reis later took to the US in an (unsuccesful) attempt to find a commercial distributor there for his films.

Nambikwara boys filmed at Porto Amarante, on the Cabixis river, probably in early 1930.

(5) 4:27-6:55 mins.: this sequence consists mostly of series of strikingly intimate portraits of Nambikwara people, mostly of women and children, but also one or two men, mostly just sitting on the ground and/or posing for the camera, These portaits include those of the two boys above. Towards the end of the sequence, a woman is shown mashing up some small pineapples with a pestle and mortar.

Many of these same shots (including the one featuring the two boys) appear in Ao Redor do Brasil, a compilation film released in 1933, in a scene in which General Rondon meets with a group of Nambikwara at Porto Amarante on the Cabixis river. This occurs about 70 minutes into the film and was probably shot in early 1930.

Nambikwara and Paresí, traditional enemies, dance together in an act of reconciliation.

(6) 6:57-7:33 mins.: this shows a group of men, some in ragged European clothes, dancing in a small circle around a smouldering log and some sticks set upright in the  middle. This appears to be the dance of reconciliation between the Nambikwara and Paresí referred to in intertitle no. 12 in Reel Six of Os Sertões de Matto-Grosso [Lasmar 2011: 263]. It was probably therefore shot at some poin tin 1914 or 1915.

(7) 7:35-8:07 mins.: this shows a group of Paresí men playing their characteristic ball game, using a rubber ball, which they head back and forth to one another. This appears to be  the sequence referred to in intertitle  no. 3 in Reel Four of  Os Sertões de Matto-Grosso [Lasmar 2011: 262]. It was therefore shot in Utiariti, probably in January or February 1914.

(8) 8:09-8:31 mins.: this  shows some men or boys diving into the water, swimming around and then clambering into a dug-out canoe.  This seems to be the shot referred to in intertitle  no. 2 in Reel Four of Os Sertões de Matto-Grosso [Lasmar 2011: 262]. Again, probably shot at Utiariti in January or February 1914.

(9) 8:33-8:53 mins.: this sequence begins with a group of people, both men and women, walking across a village plaza and then posing in a line for the camera. The head-dresses worn by two of the men indicate that they are Bororo. This is then followed by a ‘team photograph’ of two lines of women, with five standing up and three sitting down in front of them with two children.

The latter shot is identical to one that appears in Reis’ film Rituais e festas borôro, shot in 1916 in the now disappeared village of São Lourenço, located on the banks of the river of the same name. But the material earlier in this sequence seems to have been taken elsewhere since the village  in the background does not look at all like São Lourenço as shown in Reis’s film. There is also something about the quality of the film stock that suggests that this material was shot much later, possibly as late as the 1940s or even the 1950s. If so, this part of the Bororo sequence certainly would not have been shot by Reis since he died in 1940.

Texts :  Rodrigues 1982,  Lasmar 2011.










© 2018 Paul Henley