The Maijuna - Fighting for Survival in the Amazon is a sponsored project of George Mason University. Giving to Mason Means More
Help us document the fight to protect the ancestral lands and traditional culture of the Maijuna people!
The Maijuna, an indigenous group of the northeastern Peruvian Amazon, live in one of the most biologically rich regions of the world. Unfortunately, the Peruvian government wants to build a road directly through the heart of their ancestral lands, an area that they have cared for and lived in for millennia. The direct effects of highway construction and the associated impacts from an influx of colonists and subsequent deforestation would irreversibly alter the ecological fabric of this currently roadless area. Given that the Maijuna are a forest dwelling people who rely on the forest for sustenance and survival, building this road would severely impact their livelihoods and traditional culture. Help us tell the story of the last remaining Maijuna through the power of documentary filmmaking as they fight for their ancestral homeland and their cultural survival. This film is critically important because it will help to get the word out about the plight of the Maijuna and help them in their struggle to defend themselves.
This is a joint project between Professor Michael Gilmore and
students Tyler Orton and Will Martinez of George Mason University, documentary
filmmaker Jacob Wagner, and the non-governmental organization Rainforest
Conservation Fund. See below for project team details.
Areal photo of Maijuna ancestral lands which encompass almost a million acres of untouched, primary rainforest. Photo by Alvaro del Campo.
Satellite image of the Amazon showing rainforest destruction resulting from a road-building project. Building a road through Maijuna ancestral lands would be devastating. Click here for a time-lapse of Amazonian deforestation resulting from road building.
The Maijuna are fighting to conserve their traditional lands for their children and future generations. Photo by Alvaro del Campo.
More about the Maijuna and their lands:
The Maijuna are an endangered and marginalized indigenous group found in the northeastern Peruvian Amazon. Today, there are only 400 Maijuna individuals left living in four villages in a large, forested area between the Napo and Putumayo Rivers. Their ancestral homeland encompasses almost a million acres of untouched, primary rainforest.
Maijuna traditional lands are incredibly biologically rich and culturally important. They contain a complex of high terraces – an extremely unique and previously unknown habitat – that shelters a flora and fauna with new, rare, and specialized species. Jaguars, monkeys, peccaries, tapirs, and a wide variety of other ecologically and culturally important wildlife call Maijuna ancestral lands their home. Additionally, this area contains critically important hunting, fishing, and plant collecting sites as well as historical and sacred areas that help to sustain and nourish the Maijuna culture. All of this has been placed in peril by a road that the Peruvian Government wants to build directly through the heart of Maijuna ancestral lands.
Not surprisingly, the Maijuna are adamantly against the construction of this road and are asking the Peruvian government to alter its path. Additionally, they are also calling on the regional government of the Peruvian Amazon to create a Regional Conservation Area that would formally and legally protect their ancestral lands and the critically important biological and cultural diversity found there.
Although the Maijuna scored a big victory in 2012 when the regional government signed their protected area into law, some in the national government of Peru refuse to give up on their plans to build the road. In short, the fight continues for the Maijuna and our documentary film is the logical next step in helping them get the word out about the struggle for their lands and cultural survival.
Maijuna river surrounded by primary rainforest. Photo by Michael Gilmore.
The Maijuna are deeply committed to conserving their ancestral lands and traditional way of life. Photo by Alvaro del Campo.
Why this film should be made:
The idea behind this film came about organically after years of collaborating with the Maijuna on a wide variety of community-based biological and cultural conservation projects. Over the years, the Maijuna have expressed their desire to tell their story about why their ancestral homeland is important to their cultural survival. Now, with the Peruvian Government’s plan to build a road directly through the heart of Maijuna traditional lands, the need for the Maijuna to tell this story is more important than ever.
This documentary film is critically important because it will help to get the word out about the plight of the Maijuna and help them in their struggle to conserve their ancestral homeland and traditional culture. We envision that this film will not only be used to help educate the world about the struggles of the Maijuna but that it will also be used by the Maijuna to tell policy makers and politicians in Peru why the road should not be built. Allowing the Maijuna to tell their story in their own words will force the Peruvian government and others to take notice and listen to the Maijuna at this critical junction in their cultural history.
In short, this is not a film that we want to make just for the sake of making it. Instead, this is a film that needs to be made so that we can help the Maijuna gain a greater voice and fight for their future survival. Please support our effort to tackle this critically important creative project and make this documentary film happen!
Areal photo of a Maijuna river showing the intact nature of their ancestral lands. Photo by Alvaro del Campo.
One of four Maijuna villages. Photo by Michael Gilmore.
We will travel to Maijuna lands with our project team (see below for project team details) during the summer of 2014 to continue filming this documentary. This will build on the hours of footage that we successfully shot in Maijuna lands in 2012. We anticipate spending up to one more month in Maijuna lands to get the footage that we need to finish up the project in a high quality and effective way. Filming this summer will require us to stay in Maijuna villages and homes as well as to spend time deep within the rainforest to give the viewer a true look into the life of the Maijuna.
After returning from Maijuna lands we will edit the film. We plan to create two different versions of the film – one short (~5-10 minutes) and one long (~45-60 minutes). Both of the films will be bilingual (English and Spanish). We will strategically use the two films to educate Peruvian politicians and policy makers on the importance of an intact ecosystem and ancestral homeland to the future of the Maijuna. Additionally, we will be submitting both films to international film festivals as well as using each in a sustained internet-based campaign to raise awareness and support for the Maijuna.
Where the money will go:
**It is important to note that this is an all-volunteer project. That is, none of us are getting paid to work on this film. Therefore, every dollar donated will go directly to making the documentary which will help the Maijuna in their struggle for cultural survival.
Please contact us if you would like more specific budget information.
Mike Gilmore is an Assistant Professor of Integrative Studies at New Century College of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. He has a Ph.D. in ethnobotany and has worked extensively with the Maijuna and other indigenous groups of the Peruvian Amazon. He helped the Maijuna establish an indigenous federation in 2004 and has worked with them on community-based biocultural conservation projects since 1999. Current projects include helping the Maijuna push for the establishment of a protected area that is 391,000 hectares (22% larger than Yosemite National Park). This area would formally and legally protect the ancestral homeland and biocultural resources of the Maijuna for future generations. He is also conducting research on the economically, ecologically, and culturally important palm Mauritia flexuosa in Maijuna lands and throughout the Peruvian Amazon. Additionally, he is working with a group of George Mason University students on developing community-based solutions to drinking water and sanitation challenges that the Maijuna are currently experiencing in their communities. Over the years, he has successfully collaborated with a wide variety of organizations including the Field Museum of Chicago, San Diego Zoo, Nature and Cultural International, and the Rainforest Conservation Fund, among others.
Jake Wagner is a documentary filmmaker from California that currently resides in Northern Virginia. He studied TV, film and new media production at San Diego State University. Some achievements include selections in the Vegas Film Festival, San Diego State Film Festival, and a Student Emmy for performance in cinematography. He started with an early emphasis on camera work but has developed an intense interest in making documentaries. The organizing, directing and editing of this type of storytelling has proven to be his favorite work. Through this work, he captures stories in a lens, draws out the key messages, and gives the audience something to think about. In 2012, he spent one month filming in Maijuna lands, falling in love with both the people and the landscape. He cannot wait to return to Peru to continue work on this important project.
Will Martinez is currently a senior at George Mason University majoring in both marketing and accounting. He became interested in photography and film in 2011 after spending 5 years in the US Navy. He has worked with several established photographers and filmmakers from Washington D.C. and New York City and has been involved in projects for National Geographic, George Mason University, and many more. He was awarded Honorable Mention at the 2013 FotoWeekDC competition and his work has been seen on Univision DC and El Tiempo Latino.
His current body of work is done on location with subjects in the midst of their environments, reflecting the stories and livelihoods of Caribbean and Central American people. Will has also collaborated with non-profits in Nicaragua to raise awareness on important social and ecofriendly projects such as access to clean water and renewable energy. He is incredibly excited to be working on the Maijuna film project and will be using his camera skills onsite as well as his marketing skills once the film is completed.
Tyler Orton is a senior at George Mason University pursuing an Integrative Studies degree in Conservation. Before becoming a conservation studies major, he studied music and was heavily involved in recording music both inside and outside of the university. Tyler also works for the Office of Sustainability as the Project Innovation Coordinator at George Mason University. He is really looking forward to blending his skills in sound production with his conservation and sustainability knowledge as the lead sound technician during filming in Peru.
Rainforest Conservation Fund:
The Rainforest Conservation Fund (RCF) is an all-volunteer non-profit organization (501(c)(3)) that is dedicated to preserving the world's tropical forests. RCF's mission is to ensure the future of tropical rainforests through practical solutions and with respectful commitment to local people. RCF was established in 1988 and has partnered on projects in Maijuna lands in the northeastern Peruvian Amazon since 2008.
Additional Team Members:
Our team also includes several additional members. Samir Kouriri, from northern California, will serve as an additional cameraman pulling from his experience in music video production as well as backcountry cinematography. Dimitri Papazoglou, from northern Virginia, will serve as a production assistant during filming. Dimitri graduated from George Mason University in 2013 with an Integrative Studies degree in International Studies and a minor in Nonprofit Studies. Additionally, countless Maijuna individuals have helped and will continue to help on this film. We are extremely grateful for all of their hard work and dedication!
An intact ecosystem provides the Maijuna with resources for traditional products like canoe paddles, which are one of several unique perks offered. Photo by Michael Gilmore.