Aruanas - The Fight to Save the Amazon
BY Yako Molhov
Young Swedish eco activist Greta Thunberg has been dominating the international news related to climate change with her climate strike movement and much talked about speech in front of the UN. But there are thousands of other activists who have been fighting to save our planet for years that will never hit the headlines. Through its new nature-themed production Aruanas, Globo is shedding light into the daily work and hardships faced by the people who are fighting to preserve the Amazon from ever increasing deforestation in a very hostile, life-threatening environment. These people risk their own lives because they realize that losing the Amazon could mean losing life on Earth as we know it. Through their dramatic stories, the producers of the series aim not only to touch the audience, but also inspire it to actions that would help create a sustainable economy that preserves the environment. Yako Molhov talked about the new Brazilian series with creator Marcos Nisti and star actress Leandra Leal.
© Globo_Fábio Rocha. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Marcos Nisti, Creator of Aruanas, Globo, MIPCOM

Marcos, you are a social entrepreneur and film and TV producer. Please, tell us a little bit more about your social and environment work and how it is connected to TV and film?
Activism has been in my life for many years. Besides being a social entrepreneur and film and TV producer, I am the CEO of Instituto Alana, a socio-environmental organization that promotes rights and the full development of children, and co-founder of Maria Farinha Filmes – the first Latin American production company to receive the title of B Corporation because of its transparent practices and care for the people, society and nature. All these institutions seek ways to reach a bigger audience and raise the debate on activism and its causes. We found in entertainment our path to do that.

How did you come up with the idea for Aruanas?
The idea of creating Aruanas came from our experience (mine and Estela Renner's – who created and developed the series with me) of what we have seen in our daily lives and what we decided to do with our professions. We’ve watched so many shows about lawyers, physicians, police officers. Why not a series about NGOs, about activists? It was all there, in our daily routine, because Maria Farinha Filmes started with this purpose of creating productions related to important topics that should be pondered by society. When, in fact, we started developing the project, the more we expanded our research, the more certain we were of the need to have this reflection. I was part of the Greenpeace council, we have their support since the beginning to contact activists, get materials, take part in actions. They became our technical partners on the series, and even took the cast to the preparation for a non-violent activist action.

What are the main messages in Aruanas? How can we save our planet?
The first season is a stimulus for people to start seeing the Amazon with other eyes. The environment, the Amazon, its defenders and criminals should be the interest of humankind. Today, Brazil is the country that kills most activists in the world. Aruanas is an urgent work that reinforces its purpose throughout its whole creation and production processes, such as the female protagonists in the plot and behind the cameras, the use of non-polluting materials, and how we cared for the cast and the surroundings of the set. We want to inspire and expand the debate, contributing to overcoming the challenges that the series displays, towards sustainable development, balancing economic growth and the preservation of the environment.

hat are the main characters in the series and are they inspired from real people from your work?
Verônica, a lawyer who works with methods and planning – a person who is absolutely organized. This systematic way of living is knocked down by her love drama with Amir, Natalie’s husband. He represents everything wrong that she avoids in her professional routine, almost a mirror of all this daily perfection she demands of herself.
Luiza is the opposite of the lawyer. She is intense, impulsive and, sometimes, very inconsequent. Her personal drama is the same as many other women in the world: balancing her work and taking care of her son. How to balance her schedule while being an activist? She is currently reconsidering the custody of her child.

Natalie is a brilliant journalist, very focused and stable, but she suffers a miscarriage at the end of her pregnancy, with eight months, and she lives with this grief every day. Her marriage with Amir ranks third in her life and, when she realizes it, the marriage does not exist anymore, and her husband is having an affair with her best friend.
To complete the quartet, we have Clara, a young girl, who runs away from an abusive relationship and falls in love with the NGO’s work. She becomes stronger in every episode – through Clara’s eyes, the series shows the work of non-governmental organizations for the laypeople. So, when she is taught how everything works, she shows this story in the easiest way for the viewer.

You are focusing on several major current issues in the series, including environment, corruption, feminism, corporate interests; etc. What has inspired you to tackle such hard topics?
Aruanas is a fictional series, freely inspired by facts. We made dozens of interviews with activists and we saw a very inspiring resilient work. Through these studies and surveys, we reached intense topics that are difficult to be discussed but lead us to an urgent and important cause all over the world, creating a global dialog on the preservation of forests and the work of environmental defenders. During the creative process of Aruanas, we prioritized strong stories, in which personal dramas and the search for an ideal sometimes get mixed up, get in the way of one another, and save one another.

© Globo_Fábio Rocha. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

In July Aruanas debuted in more than 150 countries with subtitles in 11 languages. What has been the feedback so far?
The series has been very well accepted, both in the national and the international markets. We organized some events to introduce the series in New York, London, Lisbon and Brazil, and we’ve had amazing results, where everyone applauded the series for its relevance in the world we live today. We believe we have accomplished our biggest goal: stimulating people to see the Amazon from a different angle, appreciating the work of the activists and reflecting on our planet.

We are all witnessing the major catastrophe happening with the fires in the “lungs of the world” right now and Brazil rejecting international help. Do you believe this is done because of the agribusiness interests and Bolsonaro’s policies? Is this reflected in Aruanas as well?
Most of the Brazilian agribusiness is legal, competent and partakes of the preservation causes because, above all, they know they depend on those causes for the sustainability of their businesses. We wrote Aruanas in 2017. Deforestation is already an old topic. To give an idea, only in 2018, the deforestation in the Amazon increased 14%, the biggest leap in the last decade. Another alarming piece of data is that, here in Brazil, the country ranks first in a world classification that does not deserve celebration: the country that kills most activists in the world – only in 2017, 57 people were killed and 80% of them were nature defenders – it is definitely not a reason to feel proud and we need to be aware of that.

Leandra Leal

Leandra, how did you come on board Aruanas and what attracted you to this project?
I was rehearsing for the play PI - Panorâmica Insana when Tais called me saying that she had just read a wonderful script. She said it was so me, that the production wanted me in, and that I had to say yes. Estela Renner and Marcos Nisti called me, then I met them and Manguinha (Carlos Manga Jr) in São Paulo, and soon I fell in love with the project. The script was very well written, the characters were complex, and the environmental cause as a background touched me deeply.

What is your character like? Are you entirely different or do you find similarities between you and your character?
Luiza is a woman who loves what she does. She is brave, idealistic, somewhat stubborn and imprudent. She goes through a drama with which I identify a lot: reconciling motherhood with professional life.

How did you prepare for your role? Did you meet with real eco-activists?
Yes, we met activists, watched documentaries, and spent a month involved in preparation, readings and rehearsals. But I believe that the start shooting in Manaus was fundamental for the whole cast to dive right in the project. Feeling the strength and power of the forest, being distant from our daily life, made it possible for us to be united and immersed.

How is Aruanas different from other Brazilian telenovelas and what is the strongest message the series tries to convey to international viewers?
Aruanas brings women as protagonists, women who work in an NGO in the country that kills most activists in the world, where 13 women are murdered every day. They are presented with all the complexity of the human being, they are not perfect heroines, they have their fears, flaws and dramas. Besides, the series is conducted by an investigation, and such thriller calls the audience’s attention.

The Story

Three childhood friends, Natalie (Débora Falabella), Luiza (Leandra Leal) and Verônica (Taís Araújo), get together to protect the environment and start the environmental NGO Aruana – an indigenous name that means “sentinel”. They are based in the fictional city of Cari, where life is tough and strange facts happen: a cry for help in the shape of an anonymous report, people getting mysteriously sick, murderers and threats to the indigenous people. The activists, each in their own investigative path, create a mosaic of evidence that leads to a big scheme of environmental crimes involving illegal mining and a renowned national mining company.
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