Share this project


Share this project

Return of the Captured Spirits project video thumbnail
Replay with sound
Play with

Indigenous people of Amazon rainforest react to seeing, for the first time, films shot of their own ancestors nearly a century ago.

Indigenous people of Amazon rainforest react to seeing, for the first time, films shot of their own ancestors nearly a century ago. Read More
pledged of $10,000 goal
seconds to go

Funding Unsuccessful

This project's funding goal was not reached on January 8, 2012.

About this project


The project is going forward. Our thanks to Kickstarter for providing this platform to raise awareness about issues of cultural appropriation and repatriation that concern indigenous peoples all over the world.

The Wauja are awaiting our arrival next week. We will not yet be able to carry out all aspects of the project, such as providing video tools to all three villages and a video camera for the women to share in each village, but we will be doing the most essential part of the project — showing the films and recording the historical knowledge of the elders.  That is the one piece of the project that absolutely cannot wait.

Together with the Wauja, we are very grateful to all our backers, who have so greatly encouraged and inspired us. Thank you, all!  We look forward to seeing the Wauja in mid-January 2012, showing them the films of their ancestors, and launching the documentary on this cultural repatriation project in 2013. Stay tuned!

About the Return of the Captured Spirits

Imagine that your community and a neighboring community had been at war a half century ago. Many men had been killed, and women and children had been kidnapped. Then, imagine what it would take for those two communities to sit down together to look at archival films of life in their region, share memories of common ancestors, and allow their children to interact peacefully with one another.

In January, that is exactly what will be happening in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, when the Wauja and Ikpeng peoples come together to view historic films made by Brazilian and German explorers almost a century ago.
More about the Wauja-Ikpeng collaboration

In 1924, an expedition visited the Wauja, a remote rainforest community in Central Brazil, and shot the first movies ever made of these people. This precious footage was deposited at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, where it remained, unseen by the Wauja or their descendants, for nearly a century.

When anthropologist Emilienne Ireland first conducted research with the Wauja in 1981, she showed them xeroxed copies of some of the still photographs that had been published in an old book recounting the expedition. The oldest Wauja were thrilled and amazed to recognize several former chiefs and other important historical figures in these photos.  Since then, the Wauja have known that a film of this expedition also exists, although, to this day, they have never seen it.

Thanks to digital technology, it is now possible to bring copies of these precious and rare films to the Xingu.  In January of 2012, for the first time, the Wauja will see their own ancestors brought to life on film, including renowned chiefs and other ancestors they've heard so many stories about, but never expected to see.

In addition to the iconic Rondon footage, the Wauja will also see films from the Roncador-Xingu expedition of 1946-48, as well as ethnographic documentary shorts filmed in 1964 by the late anthropologist and photographer Harald Schultz.  The arrival of the Schultz films are eagerly awaited by the Wauja, because the Wauja believe they may contain the only surviving images of Chief Karaputan, younger brother and co-chief of the late Chief Walakuyawa, and father of Itsautaku, who today is the principal shaman of the community.

The Wauja take pride in performing time-honored stories from their own large body of oral literature, and they also have a keen interest in their cultural history. Learned men and women of chiefly descent can trace their ancestors back as many as six generations, listing not only the name of each chiefly ancestor, but also his principal accomplishments and exploits, and the names of villages he founded and led during his lifetime. Therefore this project is of utmost interest to Wauja elders and youth alike.

It is essential that the project be done without delay.  There are only a few very elderly Wauja who can identify people and events in the old films. If their knowledge is not recorded for posterity, the ancestors in the old films will remain forever nameless spirits, and strangers to their own descendants.

This reunion of past and present will be directed, shot, and edited by the rising generation of Wauja filmmakers, with training and equipment provided by the project team, which includes veteran filmmakers. Digital copies of all footage shot (whether by Wauja or non-Wauja) will be deposited with the Wauja community, to be used in their documentary, as well as a teaching resource for their village school.

How Your Donation Will be Used

We need Kickstarter funds to cover the costs of shooting this feature documentary.  Because the entire crew is donating their time, the main costs are transportation to location and video equipment to allow the young Wauja filmmakers to shoot their own footage alongside our camera crew.


During the past 10 years, filmmaker and anthropologist Marcelo Fortaleza Flores has been teaching the Wauja to make videos and take photographs. Together with anthropologist Rafaela Vargas, he has donated several cameras and computers to their community, and taught the Wauja how to use them by leading several workshops open to all villagers. The Wauja now have a proficient cameraman and over twenty apprentices, including several women, who can already operate prosumer cameras. Marcelo and Rafaela are teaming up with Emi Ireland, the two other American cameramen, and the Wauja themselves, in order to support the Wauja's growing interest in documenting their own cultural history.

(Ceremonial sponsors (including the chief, leaning on his bow and wearing a jaguar-skin belt) offer a feast of smoked fish and manioc bread to costumed dancers manifesting a forest spirit.)

The Wauja have been inspired by neighboring indigenous groups who are producing award-winning filmmakers. This year, a feature-length film collaboratively produced by indigenous and non-indigenous filmmakers Takumã Kuikuro, Carlos Fausto, and Leo Sette won Special Jury Prize and Best Film Editing at the Gramado Film Festival, Brazil’s largest.

The Wauja, who have been making documentaries in their community for several years, now want to compete at film festivals and distribute their own films to a worldwide audience. This project is equipping them with the professional tools that will allow them to reach their goal.


Transportation costs include not only airfare to Brazil, but another 1100 miles of travel into the interior of this vast country, to the border town of Canarana. (See route to Canarana on Google maps). That's the easy part.

(The marsh by Lake Piyulaga, facing west. This is where the women draw water and where men who've been out fishing bring home their catch.)

(The same location at dusk.) 

The final leg of the trip is entering the Xingu National Park, the indigenous reserve where the Wauja and neighboring groups live. There are no roads leading from outside the Park to the Wauja village, so the only access is by light plane or boat. From Canarana, we plan to take a truck for several hours along the unpaved road leading to the edge of the Xingu Reserve, and then take a boat to the area where the Wauja live.  However, if the seasonal rains have made the road from Canarana impassable, we will have to come in by light plane.

We will arrive in the main Wauja village, called Piyulaga, in mid-January.  You can see it in Google maps.

(The main village of Piyulaga, facing east. This is what you see every day when you return from bathing at Lake Piyulaga, which is a pleasant one-mile walk from the village.)

There are two other Wauja settlements that have no airstrips and can be reached only by boat. Extensive travel by boat is expensive, because you must bring all your own fuel and food for each leg of the trip. We will visit each community in turn and show the old films, provide HD cameras to the Wauja so they can make their own record of the event, and shoot our footage, leaving digital copies with each community.

You can see these communities in Google maps: Piyulewene, located on the Rio von den Steinen, roughly ten hours downriver (north) by motorboat from the main village, Piyulaga.  In the opposite direction is the village of Ulupuene, located about ten hours upriver (south) from Piyulaga, along the Rio Batovi. If you follow the course of the rivers in Google maps, you can see why the logistics of our project are daunting: the many twists, turns, and oxbows of these serene and meandering rivers make the distances by water two or three times the distance as the crow flies.

(Stormclouds during the rainy season, roughly from October through March.
The specks on the rooftop are chickens.)

Our final stop is a special one. We will be visiting the Ikpeng, Carib-speaking people who, until 1964, were the traditional enemies of the Arawakan-speaking Wauja.  The Ikpeng village is located downriver from the Wauja. Residing among the Ikpeng is a woman called Kamiru, the eldest daughter of a deceased Wauja chief, who was stolen by the Ikpeng as a war captive many years ago, and who married into the Ikpeng tribe. Her grandfather is one of the great Wauja chiefs shown in the old films, and we will show them to her and her community. In addition, because the Ikpeng were traditional enemies of the Wauja, over the years, certain Wauja sought political asylum there.  As a result, it so happens that one of the oldest living Wauja, a woman named Kainyun, is found today residing in the Ikpeng village.

(Paddling through a marshy area at dawn.)

Members of the Team

Emilienne Ireland, producer, translator, anthropologist
Marcelo Fortaleza Flores, director, filmmaker and anthropologist
Rafaela Vargas, anthropologist, lead video trainer in all three villages
Jeffrey Ehrenreich, photographer and visual anthropologist
Mori Rothman, assistant cameraman

Anthropologist Emi Ireland explains why the project must be done now, while the elders who can identify people and events in the old films are still alive. She recalls a conversation with some members of the Wauja indigenous community in Central Brazil, when they first realized that she lived in a large city, surrounded by people who were complete strangers to her. The importance of connections to one's community and one's past are the theme of "Return of the Captured Spirits," a documentary film project scheduled for production in January 2012.

Ways You Can Help

To back us, just click the green Back This Project Button!

One easy way to get involved is to friend the film on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @ReturnofSpirits, or visit our YouTube page. Please take a few minutes to spread the word through Facebook, Twitter, or a quick e-mail to a few friends. Visit our website at


Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.

Ask a question

Support this project

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $10 or more About $10 USD

    Digital download package (beautiful Wauja flute music; all posters, banners and desktop wallpaper; and transcript of film in English and Wauja), and a personal thank-you email from one of the directors or producers (Wauja or non-Wauja). Cast and crew will personally thank you and all other donors by name in an online "Thank You" montage video. You'll also be credited on our website and Facebook page as a supporter of Return of the Captured Spirits, and receive project updates by email.

    Estimated delivery
    4 backers
  2. Select this reward

    Pledge $25 or more About $25 USD

    All the rewards listed above, plus a signed copy of the final DVD of the film, and a handwritten thank-you postcard from the Wauja mailed from the nearest post office (about a hundred miles away from the Wauja village). Your name will appear in the "Thank You" credits of the DVD version of the film.

    Estimated delivery
    21 backers
  3. Select this reward

    Pledge $50 or more About $50 USD

    All the rewards listed above, plus you can submit questions about the film for interviews with producers and directors (both Wauja and non-Wauja) that will be included in the final DVD (questions may be edited for clarity). Your name will appear in the THANK YOU section of the credits of the DVD version of the film.

    Estimated delivery
    6 backers
  4. Select this reward

    Pledge $100 or more About $100 USD

    All the rewards listed above, plus you’ve just become a MAJOR CONTRIBUTOR, and will be credited as such in the end title crawl of the movie! Your name will appear alphabetically under the heading "Major Contributors," listed at the beginning of closing credits, immediately after cast and crew. You will also receive a signed 8x10 glossy of a Wauja cast member.

    Estimated delivery
    9 backers
  5. Select this reward

    Pledge $150 or more About $150 USD

    All the rewards listed above, plus get a Skype session or phone chat with the director or on-location producer about the Wauja, or about the making of the video. Conditions permitting, we will skype you in January or February 2012 from location in the Wauja's village in the rainforest, which has a satellite antenna. If we can't connect via skype from Brazil, we'll skype you from the U.S. in August 2012, and give you a behind-the-scenes update.

    Estimated delivery
    1 backer
  6. Select this reward

    Pledge $250 or more About $250 USD

    All the rewards listed above, plus an audio download of the Wauja thanking you with a song mentioning your name.
    In addition, you can personally ask the Wauja questions about their way of life, their environment, their thoughts about the future, or any other topic. You can send your questions in writing or as a YouTube video of two minutes or less. The Wauja will make a short video in reply, and one of our producers will translate for you.

    Estimated delivery
    0 backers
  7. Select this reward

    Pledge $500 or more About $500 USD

    All the rewards listed above, plus you’ve just become an ASSOCIATE PRODUCER, and will be credited as such in the movie! Your name will appear alphabetically during the end title crawl under the "Associate Producers" heading.

    Estimated delivery
    0 backers
  8. Select this reward

    Pledge $750 or more About $750 USD

    All the rewards listed above, plus a photo of your name taken on location in the Wauja village AND we will put your photo as an "Easter Egg" somewhere in the film so you can point it out to your friends.

    Estimated delivery
    0 backers
  9. Select this reward

    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000 USD

    All the rewards listed above, plus a short online video, featuring a song performed just for you, mentioning your name, and sung with gusto by the young generation of Wauja filmmakers for your enjoyment. Guaranteed to be unlike any gift you have ever received. Plus a beautiful original ink drawing by a Wauja artist on 100% rag paper.

    Estimated delivery
    0 backers
  10. Select this reward

    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000 USD

    INTERACTIVE SPECIAL: Please note that this pledge does not require a monetary contribution. If you can get us over 1,000 fans on our "Return of the Captured Spirits" Facebook page, you will receive an Associate Digital Strategist credit on our project. And whoever can get us the most Facebook fans (over 1,000) will receive a Digital Strategist credit.

    Estimated delivery
    Limited 0 backers
  11. Select this reward

    Pledge $1,700 or more About $1,700 USD

    Broaden horizons for girls and women by helping them get their own video equipment! In return, you (or your daughter) will be listed as AMAZON WOMEN SPECIAL DONOR in the credits, and the women will make a short online video personally dedicated to you, expressing their thanks and singing some of their wonderful repertoire of women's songs. Great karma for you and guaranteed to delight. We hope to bring an HD camera and audio kit to the women in each of the three Wauja villages, so that no one is left out.

    Estimated delivery
    Limited 0 backers

Funding period

- (25 days)