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Rainforest group raises profile at SXSW

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Austinite Niyanta Spelman, executive director of the charity Rainforest Partnership, is passionate about rainforests. She describes them as “magical, mystical, full of the unknown,” and points out that there is much that we humans do not know about those forests, which are also sometimes called “the lungs of the Earth.” 2018 marks the ninth year that the Rainforest Partnership has presented Films for the Forest to Austin and the South by Southwest community. The films are part of a contest created by the Rainforest Partnership to draw attention to the need to conserve the rainforest, not just for the plants, animals and people who live there, but for the health of the entire planet. The films, which range from less than four minutes to over 20 minutes, were judged by Academy Award nominee Richard Linklater and Michael Cain, president of EARTHxFilm. The rainforest films will also be featured at EARTHxFilm festival in Dallas April 13-22. On Tuesday, three filmmakers with experience making films in Brazil, Ecuador and Peru described for their SXSW audience the ups and downs of making movies in the Amazon rainforest. Among those speaking was Brazilian director Rafa Calil, who is working on a documentary about the legacy of Chico Mendes and the everyday lives of forest dwellers. Mendes, Brazil’s most famous rainforest activist, was murdered in 1988. Calil described going out with a hunter to find meat in the forest and spending the night in a hammock high off the ground with a multitude of mosquitoes and a howler monkey jeering at them. Calil said he has footage of a local official cutting down a tree in a part of the forest that was supposed to be protected. That illustrates one of the big problems of protecting the forest – if local people don’t become involved in politics, it’s hard for them to convince others of the need to save the forest. Spelman said her organization “partners with the communities and local governments, so you make it harder for people to do certain things (such as cutting protected trees). It’s not easy. We’ve had a project coordinator who was on an assassination list – a long time ago.” But, she added, “we haven’t had that in years and I never feel unsafe.” For a description of Rainforest Partnership’s projects, visit

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