Interview with Marcos Colón: the director, writer and producer of Beyond Fordlândia. 

Marcos Colon

Marcos Colon

The Grand Rapids Film Festival has lately been looking to filmmakers for their insight and candor into the world around them.  One filmmaker is Marcos Colón: the director, writer and producer of Beyond Fordlândia

Beyond Fordlândia is documentary that has won the prominent 2017 Golden Sun WWF award at the Barcelona International Film Festival.  It presents an environmental account ninety years after Henry Ford’s Amazon experience, where in 1927 the Ford Motor Company attempted to establish rubber plantations on the Tapajós River, a primary tributary of the Amazon.  The film covers the clearing of 1 million hectares of forest for the cultivation of rubber trees and the transition to a successful soybean monoculture, which substituted enormous sections of forest for lucrative commodities for export.  It also discusses the damage imposed on the forest, the hydrography and Amazonian man, these being ever more threatened by the advance of agro-business in the region.

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Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to a Brazilian and an American father, Colón is a Ph. D. candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  His 5 different trips to the Amazon while filming were made possible by UW-Madison’s Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies Program, the Nelson Institute’s Center for Culture, History, and Environment (CHE), and the university’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese. He speaks multiple languages including Portuguese, Spanish, German and English. Some of his favorite films and inspirations are Nanook of the North from 1922 directed by Robert J. Flaherty, Into the Wild from 2007 directed by Sean Penn, Aguiree, the Wrath of God from 1972 and Fitzcarraldo, from 1982, both directed by Werner Herzog.

Colón considers Brazil his home country and has always been moved by the culture of his people.  What inspired him to make Beyond Fordlândia was to challenge the narrative of Henry Ford and Ford’s attempt to tame nature and capitalism. 

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He has said he wants to “raise awareness about processes of exploitation that are overlooked, misremembered, rebranded, and lied about, or just covered by trees and forgotten by history.” 

Spending 16 months of production on the film stimulated a passion to create awareness of the Amazon’s destruction.  At the time only a local driver was his companion but his determination continued because of the ongoing injustice he saw of the irreversible damage to the rainforest.  Among these issues are diseases and water contamination introduced by Ford that continue to grow more aggressive each year. 

The message then becomes that even though Beyond Fordlândia addresses local concerns, it makes viewers concerned for the future of the world.  Colón states that the current situation of the Amazon has been painful and with this film he can bring a vision to those in Brazil who want change.

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“I had the opportunity to visit the Brazilian part of the Amazon, and get a close look at a region known only through literary work,'" he explained. "When I read about the arrival of Ford in O Turista Aprendiz (The Apprentice Tourist), by Mário de Andrade, my focus moved to that region. After visiting Fordlândia and Belterra, cities founded through Ford's ventures, I decided that I needed to tell those stories.” 

Colón’s mission with his film is to dually dispel nostalgia about Ford’s Amazon experimentation while bringing a realistic vision to the world that leaves the audience totally impacted after they become witnesses.

The GRFF asked him one last important question that characterizes our goal in providing transformative cinema to the public: Do you think filmmakers have a certain responsibility to the world?  His answer was an emphatic yes, that absolutely everyone has responsibilities and in particular, filmmakers have the capacity to bring reason and voice.  He said, “A documentary is not a capsule of truth, but one where the filmmaker creates their reality.  The image on the screen is beyond the screen.”  A documentary has an essence, one that brings a consciousness to its audience and tries to change the world for the better.  Filmmakers have the capability to make invisible subjects visible while trying to make the world a better place for everyone.

His next film project is a sequel to Beyond Fordlândia, which will continue to address issues of environmental rights.  Another noteworthy work is his article entitled: “Five Reasons Why Henry Ford’s Failure in Brazil Still Matters Today”.

We’ll be showing Beyond Fordlândia on Saturday, September 15th at the Wealthy Theater as one of our 2018 Festival Films. Click here for more information on showtimes.