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Five Questions For Jose Padilha

Secrets of the Tribe
Secrets of the Tribe
Zazen Producoes

1. What motivated you to focus your documentary on the field of Anthropology?

I see my film as a critique of academia, as being about the fact that if a given scholarly community lacks a culture that is compatible with the basic methodological procedures necessary to conduct objective research, it will lose itself in endless arguments and personal accusations. The field of Yanomami anthropology perfectly illustrates that point.

2. How did you hear of the story behind the "virgin" society of Yanomami Indians and the shadowy scientists who observed them? Was this controversy widely known outside of the scholarly world?

The journalist Patrick Tierney, who is interviewed in my film, wrote a very controversial book about this very issue back in 2000, and almost got nominated for a Pulitzer. So, the story was out there. Patrick also wrote an equally controversial article about it in the New Yorker, and that is how I learned about the story.

3. You allowed professors accused of heinous crimes against the tribe to defend themselves and then let the Yanomami tell their side of the story about their "guests". It was a provocative, funny way to learn the truth. However, do you feel this sort of montage debased the serious nature of the subject matter?

There are various issues related to the story I was trying to tell. One, of course, is the effects that some of those researchers had on the Yanomami themselves, such as the activities conducted by Jacques Lizot. But there are also others, such as the lack of scholarly objectivity one would expect to find in such an important field. It's a very serious matter when famous "scientists", guys that earn millions by making big claims about human nature based on their Yanomamo research, have not really considered the fragility of the data that informs their findings. As it turns out, what looks like science sometimes is not. I tried to make a film that showed both issues at once. And, as any film, sometimes it is funny but sometimes it is dead serious.

4. The famous anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss once wrote that he believed social sciences would become as axiomatic as the hard sciences (e.g. Physics) over time. Though this surely has not come to pass, do you feel the field of anthropology is a legitimate field with the potential of revealing truths about our society?

No. I think anthropology is far from being such a field because the culture of the anthropologist community is not compatible with sound methodological science. Levi-Strauss is dead wrong as far as I can tell. Science is based on the possibility of objectivity, on the possibility of different people checking out for themselves the observations made by others. Without that possibility, there is no empirical principle capable of deciding between different arguments and theories. If someone goes to the Amazon basin and observes a certain tribe acting amazingly violent, and makes perfect and honest observations concerning such violence, the work of that person is still not scientific. For how can everyone know if the person in question is really honest, or if the methodology he/she used was really sound? Measurements, observations, descriptions can only be considered scientific when they are independently confirmed by other people. An empirical science cannot derive from the experience of single individuals, and giving such experience a fancy name, such as “ethnographic experience”, does not change this fact. Anthropology has not fully apprehended that reality. Even if it does, however, it will still be far from an "axiomatic" science.

5. Can you tell about your upcoming projects?

Sure. I am in the editing room, giving the finishing touches to "Elite Squad 2," that opens in October 8 here in Rio.




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