The Decade of Destruction

This series is a unique longitudinal study into the impact of what is considered one of the most important environmental issues of our times - the deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest during the 1980s. Filming on the series began in 1980 and continued throughout the decade. Each programme was filmed in a different part of the Amazon region and looks in depth at a single issue by following how it affects a single person.

In the UK, the series initially was five one hour films, but later additional films were added. Also note that several versions were made for alternate markets and that these are often quite different. For example, Ashes of the Forest was one 52 minute programme in the UK series but was made as a two part documentary for the American series. The series was originally broadcast in 1984 and then an updated version was broadcast in 1990.


This tragic story is a testimony to how the expansion into the Amazon had disastrous consequences for both the indigenous Indians and the poor settlers who were flooding the region. In 1979 a seven year old boy, Fabio Prestes, the son of a poor Brazilian farmer, was kidnapped by an uncontacted tribe of Indians. The film follows the boy’s father, Chico Prestes, as he desperately tries to find his son and, at the same time, charts the progress of a separate government expedition to contact and make peace with the Indians. Chico's contacts amongst the frontier's 'underground' bring to light the fact that an Uru Eu Wau Wau girl was kidnapped in a similar way by rubber tappers. Although attacked by the Indians, the government expedition eventually succeeds in contacting and making peace with the tribe - but only as the frontier begins to overwhelm their forest. A penetration road is being driven into their territory; drilling starts for a dam across their river; and colonists and mineral companies press in from every direction. The Indians catch a series of lethal epidemics and many of the tribe die.


This programme is about the colonists who were settling in the indigenous Uru Eu Wau Wau’s territory during the 1980s. It follows a colonist called Renato as he and his family move in and burn the jungle. With great hopes, they plant their first crops, only to see them wither and die in the poor soil. The Uru Eu Wau Wau are decimated by epidemics and 60%-80% of the tribe died by the end of the decade. The situation for the colonists was also bleak. Within two years the family and most of their neighbours have abandoned their land; even so, hundreds of thousands of other colonists are still pouring into the region – encouraged by the government propaganda and a paved road financed by the World Bank.


Jose Lutzenberger - Brazil's best-known environmentalist – presents this film. Over the next five years, he shows that not only have Renato and the colonists failed, but so have many of the large ranches and mechanized farms. Appalled by the magnitude of the destruction, Lutzenberger leads a campaign against the government’s policy to colonize the area. He takes his campaign to Washington and joins forces with international NGOs, attacking the World Bank loan to Brazil for the project Polonoroeste. As his campaign is taken up internationally by environmentalists and Congressmen in Washington the Uru Eu Wau Wau forest and the roads which opened it up become one of the major development controversies of the 1980s.

The two-part American version of In the Ashes of the Forest, which combines elements from the first three films above, is available for download from Bullfrog films.
In the Ashes of the Forest - Part 1
In the Ashes of the Forest - Part 2


This documentary is in two parts. They provide a scientific view of the complex system that is the Amazon jungle and explanations of what is happening to the rainforest as a direct result of deforestation. In the The Storms of the Amazon, Dr Eneas Sallati, a former director of the National Institute for Amazon Research, talks about his research into the relationship between climate and the forest. He reveals that the jungle actually produces half of its own rain. Deforestation, therefore, has a wider consequence as it reduces the rainfall in the whole of central Brazil and not in just the forest region. The second part, The Mechanics of the Forest, reveals how the complex rainforest system works. Rob Bierregaard, a zoologist, and Judy Rankin, a botanist, explain the interdependency that is essential to the survival of the many species that live in the rainforest.


This is a modern David and Goliath story. In 1981, the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank lends the Brazilian government half a billion dollars to part fund the Polonoroeste road development project. The project is proclaimed by the Brazilian government to be ‘the biggest land reform ever tried.’ Instead, it rapidly becomes the biggest environmental disaster of our time. It is this project which led to the catastrophic deforestation of western Rondonia. From the beginning, the project was confronted with widespread opposition by international environmental agencies. Finally, leading environmentalists, including grass-roots activists like rubber-tapper Chico Mendes, testify in front of a Senate sub-committee. The resulting pressure from the sub-committee leads to the Bank withdrewing support for the project and admitting it has made a mistake.

Banking on Disaster is available for download from Bullfrog Films.


Brazil has the world's largest untouched gold reserves and, (in the 1980s), roughly 70 per cent of its production is mined by garimpeiros. They are a horde of 250,000 freelance prospectors, who pan and dredge gold all over the forest.

This film follows Jeova, a prospector famous among his colleagues for his illegal gold strikes in the mineral concession of Brazil’s largest mining multi-national. This reserve is the richest mineral province on earth with vast iron, copper, manganese and bauxite deposits frequently covered by surface gold. The gold attracts the garimpeiros, and the film follows Jeova for several years in his game of hide and seek with the mining company's security patrols in the jungle.

The main threat to the company, however, is the huge mine of Serra Pelada manually operated by garimpeiros. At the beginning of the decade, the 80,000 Serra Pelada garimpeiros fought off the Company's claim to operate this fabulously rich gold seam and threatened if challenged to attack the Company's own mines and railway.

By 1987 the Serra Pelada has become too dangerous and uneconomic to work by hand and is abandoned. At this time, the mining company's iron, manganese and copper production sets off a massive industrial development in eastern Amazonia. The amount of wood required to burn charcoal for the pig iron factories along the railway is enough to completely deforest Jeova's jungle within ten years.


in 1988 Chico Menders, the union leader of the rubber tappers in Acre, was assassinated. This film was begun in 1985 and follows Chico's progress as he organizes the rubber tappers to defend the forest against the ranchers who want to cut it down. The rubber tapper's way of life is sustainable as they are able to make a living from the forest without harming it. As Chico's ideas gain in popularity and strength, he comes into direct conflict with the rancher who orders his murder. Chico knows the danger he is in; the title of this film is a direct quote from him.

Note: MURDER IN THE AMAZON is the US version.


It is impossible to understand the massive migration into Amazonia - why colonist families invade Indian territory - without an impression of the millions of rural poor who have been driven off the land in the rest of Brazil. This film was shot on the eastern border of Amazonia along its first development road, the Belem-Brasilia Highway. This is Brazil's area of greatest rural conflict where, in 1986 alone, more than a hundred people were killed. It is an area where abject poverty rubs shoulders with massive wealth on the vast 100,000 acre ranches acquired by large companies with tax exemptions and government loans given during the period of the military dictatorship.

In the first location, a ranch about to lose its tax status because its land is unused and held for speculation, hires gunmen to drive poor squatters away. Many families leave, their houses are burnt, and two squatters are killed by the gunmen. Oiti, one of the squatters persuades the others to unite and resist. It is a victory for the squatters when the government land agency confiscates the ranch from the original owners and issues title deeds to the squatters, as it becomes apparent that the ranch was little more than a tax shell. In the second location, however, it is the squatters who are forced to abandon their land after five gunmen, using sawn-off 12 bore shot-guns, murder two squatters and a child. Despite pressure to take action, the police refuse to arrest the gunmen. An interview with the region's most famous gunman establishes that gunmen and ranchers are practically never brought to trial.

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