Eami means “forest” in Ayoreo. It also means “‘”world.” When director Paz Encina traveled to the land of the indigenous Ayoreo-Totobiegosode people, she found that they do not make a distinction between these things: The trees, the animals and the plants that have surrounded them for centuries are all they know and now they live in an area – the Chaco plain – that is experiencing the fastest deforestation on the planet.

When Encina immersed herself in the tribe’s mythology and listened to heartbreaking stories of their people being chased of their land, she craved her latest dreamy, magical-realist film Eami, about a little girl called Eami who wanders the rainforest after her village is destroyed and her community disintegrates.

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“At once I felt it was something that was inevitable that I had to do, [the tribe] wanted to explain what it was like to be tossed out of the jungle and their territory and I felt it was something as well to do with exile diaspora with separation from people we love,” Encina said Saturday at Deadline’s Contenders International event. “All of my films, in one way or another, have dealt with that particular issue. My country has had 35 years of dictatorship, my dad was exiled, so that was not foreign to me at all.”

Encina said this image of the Ayorean child being abandoned came to her about a month after she first saw a picture of Alan Kurdi, the young Kurdish boy who drowned off of the coast of Turkey after attempting to flee Syria.

“Separation from loved ones is a traumatic thing, but it’s also a reality and it’s a reality that keeps on occurring,” she continued. “Of course, they have been leaving the jungle for a long time, but this is something that is continuously happening. It’s something that is urgent to tell not just for us but for them, for us and everybody, because it is part of the climate crisis and I feel the issue is completely universal.”

Check back Monday for the panel video.

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