Columnist Sarah Harris reviews BBC’s ‘I Bought a Rainforest’ for the first instalment of her political documentary series.
WHAT: ‘I BOUGHT A RAINFOREST,’ THREE-PART DOCUMENTARY, BBC2
WHO: CHARLIE HAMILTON JAMES
WHERE: MANU, PERU
THE PREMISE: WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER CHARLIE AND HIS WIFE ARE ARGUING ABOUT THE PERUVIAN’S TREATMENT OF THEIR RAINFOREST. WHILE CHARLIE IS UPSET BY THE TREATMENT OF THEIR LAND, HIS WIFE HAS AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE POVERTY INFLUENCING THESE ACTIONS. CHARLIE BUYS A PIECE OF THE AMAZON, AND GOES TO LIVE THERE, PHOTOGRAPHING IT FOR A YEAR AND DISCOVERING THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE THERE IN THE PROCESS. CAN CHARLIE HELP THE LAND HOLDING UP TO 40,000 PLANT SPECIES, OR IS THE PERVUIAN LIFESTYLE COUNTERACTIVE OF CHARLIE’S HOPES TO SAVE THE RAINFOREST?
Charlie Hamilton James has been photographing wildlife since he was a child, and is in love with the habitat that comes with it: that is, the breath-taking rainforest. He is aware of the dangers of cutting the rainforest down. He is aware that by chopping down one large mahogany in the Amazon, the habitat of hundreds of animals is taken away. He is aware that vast sections of the rainforest are destroyed to make way for the excessive breeding of cows.
In short, Charlie is aware of the issues concerning the rainforest from a Western stance. However, he starts off completely detached from the human population that he has presumed terrible for their treatment of their own rainforest, with little understanding of these peoples’ lifestyles. Charlie travels thousands of miles to live on a patch of dead land he bought for six thousand quid in the Amazon and uncover the lives of those who are cutting down the rainforest. As he begins, he grasps dearly to the philosophy that the more he discovers of the backdrop to the rainforest’s collapse, the easier it should be to solve the issues behind deforestation.
As his time in the rainforest stretches far out in front of him, Charlie seems to feel further from the familiar English landscape and culture, and begins to absorb the lives of those around him. Witnessing these people burning down their native forest areas in person has a powerful effect on him. James spends a lot of his time in the Amazon with the men he has spent his life miscalculating as they take part in the activities he is politically against, such as burning down their own land for cattle, and digging it up for gold. After a while hanging with the natives, seeing them work, and chatting to them about how they feel regarding the land, the penny drops. James has a poignant moment as he turns to the camera and notes that ‘’those bastards destroying it, every single one of those bastards are nice people, and not bastards at all.’’
As Charlie’s time on his 100 acres unfolds, he considers another thought, that “the people who are the problem are the solution.’’ Following this, Charlie’s photography style changes from 95% wildlife shots to unvarnished shots of the locals whose lives he is discovering. As the documentary reaches its end, Charlie’s priorities appear to shift as he tries to find a way to save the environment that is as people-friendly as it is forest-friendly.
In all, this documentary is as educational as it is relative to how the average viewer sees deforestation. Informative as “I Bought a Rainforest’’ is, with its shots of mining for gold and cocoa fields, it manages to capture the layman’s take on its subject by sending in Charlie Hamilton James, a man set in his beliefs, to carry viewers through his changing relationship with the rainforest and its people as he discovers what lies beneath its destruction. In conclusion, Charlie’s story of discovery is one that comes across as unpolished and genuine. He gives viewers a double whammy of adventure and education as he flips from environmentalist spy to friend of the locals, and all while teaching know-it-all viewers a thing or two about standing about at parties chatting their gobs off about environmentalism.