August 14, 2006

Amazon rainforest to star in Brazil soap opera

By Peter Blackburn

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Reuters) - Brazil's Globo TV
network this month starts filming a soap opera set in the
Amazon that the producers hope will stir debate at home and
abroad on the plight of the world's biggest rainforest and the
mostly poor people who live there.

Globo's soaps, or "telenovelas," attract huge audiences and
have been marketed in more than 80 countries. They often deal
with pressing social issues such as racism and gun violence.

"Amazonia" will depict the historic fight for independence
from Bolivia by rubber tappers in the Acre region of the remote
western Amazon at a time when Brazil ruled the world rubber

"Acre is symbolic of the history and problems of the
Amazon. The series will stimulate popular discussion," producer
Marcos Schechtman told reporters on Monday.

The telenovela shows Acre's slide from splendor as Malaya
(now Malaysia) overtook Brazil as the No. 1 rubber producer,
causing output to soar and prices to collapse.

"Acre is now a forgotten corner of the Amazon," veteran
scriptwriter Gloria Perez said. "People think no-one lived in
the rainforest."

Perez, who was brought up in Acre, said many people were
transported there by force from Brazil's impoverished northeast
to tap the rubber trees.

Acre was annexed by Brazil in 1899 to prevent Bolivia
leasing it to international capitalists, she said.

The telenovela will portray the lives and loves of the
people who conquered Acre, such as the Spanish adventurer and
womanizer Luis Galvez, who set about educating the rubber
tappers with a troupe of pretty teachers.

It also features an idealistic soldier, Placido de Castro,
who trained and armed a ragged group of tappers with rifles and
machetes and led them to victory over Bolivia's army.

The miniseries ends with a peaceful campaign in the 1980s
by rubber tappers led by the charismatic Chico Mendes to
protect the rainforest from ranchers.

"Tappers and Indians were driven from the forest into
favelas. Chico made the world aware," Perez said, adding that
the "Amazonia" will revive the message of Mendes, who was
murdered by ranchers in 1988.

At present the Amazon is under threat from illegal logging
and other agricultural ventures. The rainforest lost 18,900 sq
km (7,300 sq miles) -- an area more than half the size of
Belgium -- between July 2004 and August last year, according to
Brazil's environment ministry.

Globo starts shooting its 47-episode series on location in
the Amazon this month for screening from January.