Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

DugOut directed by Benjamin Sadd

James Trundle paddling through the Amazon rainforest in a dugout canoe James Trundle paddling through the Amazon rainforest in a dugout canoe Benjamin Sadd
09 Jan
2018
An epic journey through the Amazon in a traditional dugout canoe comes with a surprisingly immersive glimpse into the lives of the rainforest’s indigenous inhabitants

‘We’ve made a really heavy canoe, quite a long way away from the water, and we’re clearly poorly equipped to move it,’ reflects artist James Trundle. The tone and content sums up this film: a slightly chaotic yet engaging story about two young Brits pushing themselves far out of their comfort zone; felling a tree and constructing a canoe in the remote Amazon, before attempting to use it to paddle their way out of the jungle.

Despite the emphasis on the canoe itself, and the journey it takes after its construction, the real story of the film is that of canoe-making guru, Bay Nenquiwi, a Huaorani hunter living with his family in Apaika, part of Ecuador’s Yasuni reserve. This is where Trundle and his filmmaker accomplice, Benjamin Sadd, opted to base themselves for a month, living as their hosts do – from banana broth breakfasts to basket weaving sessions – while undertaking the not-insignificant challenge of choosing the correct tree and subsequently crafting a traditional boat entirely by hand.

Despite their two months in the rainforest, the difference between the way Trundle and Sadd manage their time in the wilderness, and the utterly holistic relationship Nenquiwi shares with the natural environment, is truly striking. From his hunting blow-darts poisoned with toxic vines, to the knowledge passed down through the generations regarding how to build a river-worthy canoe from scratch, he is a man totally comfortable in a landscape most would find at best daunting, at worst inhospitable. Most poignantly, when scraping out the inside of the felled tree, he observes that the wood ‘bleeds when you cut it’, cradling a handful of what looks for all the world like a pool of blood. Hence the name of this particular tree: ‘blood of the chicken’.

After a small amount of last minute stuffing-of-t-shirts-into-holes, it isn’t long before the pair find themselves the owners of their very own traditional dugout canoe, all set and ready for adventure. After the intense experience of living with the family in Apaika, and the insights into the traditional rainforest lifestyles it entails, the river journey itself is comparatively calm, almost tranquil. They are treated to the sights of flamboyant birds, wild monkeys, and a vast array of colourful insects as they drift through this uniquely biodiverse part of the world, dealing with the usual difficulties of bank-side camping that accompanies most river travel.

Eventually, they reach the end of the Rio Tiputini, join the far wider Rio Napo, and reach their final destination, the town of Rocafuerte, situated on the border with Peru. Here, their dramatic journey comes to a surprisingly sudden end, a feeling which clearly hits them as hard as it does the audience. Saying goodbye to the canoe they spent two months building and paddling in is clearly a difficult undertaking.

Crucially, the film depicts the dramatic change occurring in the Amazon rainforest. Not long after the conclusion of the adventure, word reaches Trundle and Sadd that, due to Ecuador’s decision to begin exploiting oil resources in the Yasuni reserve, Nenquiwi and his family have left Apaika. The place they enjoyed camping in the wild has now been converted into an oil camp. What began as an audacious desire to record a carefree jungle adventure, instead captures the final days of this region of pristine natural rainforest, wrenched suddenly from isolation into the cut-and-thrust of the modern world. The glimpses we, as an audience, enjoyed of Bay Nenquiwi and his family embracing a lifestyle so different from our own, become ever more valuable, as that world continues to shrink.

DugOut is showing as part of the Banff Mountain Film Festival, on tour across the UK and Ireland from 13 January in Edinburgh, and finishing on 19 May in Newtownabbey. For more information and to book tickets, visit banff-uk.com.

red line

NEVER MISS A STORY

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our free weekly newsletter!

red line

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe to Geographical!

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The green dragon awakens
    China has achieved remarkable economic success following the principle of developing first and cleaning up later. But now the country with the world's...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    When the wind blows
    With 1,200 wind turbines due to be built in the UK this year, Mark Rowe explores the continuing controversy surrounding wind power and discusses the e...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in REVIEWS...

Exhibitions

It’s hard to imagine life without the visual world upfront…

Books

by Patrick Winn • Icon Books • £14.99 (paperback)

Books

by Mark Nelson • UA Press • £21.99 (paperback)

Books

by Ed Douglas and John Beatty • Vertebrate Publishing •…

Books

by Tristan Gooley • Sceptre Books • £20 (hardback)

Books

by Adam Weymouth • Particular Books • £16.99 (hardback)

Books

by David Runciman • Profile Books • £14.99 (hardback)

Films

Blockbuster dinosaur sequel asks probing questions about humans’ ethical responsibilities…

Films

Are kangaroos a great icon for Australia? Or a natural…

Exhibitions

New exhibition at London’s Saatchi Gallery by photojournalist Lizzie Sadin,…

Books

by Tim Marshall • Elliott & Thompson • £16.99 (hardback)

Books

by Inara Verzemnieks • Pushkin Press • £16.99 (hardback)

Books

by Andy Kirkpatrick • Vertebrate Publishing • £24 (hardback)

Books

edited by Paul Hawken • Penguin • £16.99 (paperback)

Books

by William Frame and Laura Walker •British Library Publishing • £40…

Books

by Tom Young • Oneworld • £12.99 (hardback)

Exhibitions

An up-market Chinese-art gallery in Mayfair is trying something new,…

Exhibitions

A colourful vision of saddle-billed storks collects the top prize…

Exhibitions

To reflect the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s first voyage…

Exhibitions

From 18-22 July, photography tour company Light and Land will…