The award-winning Canadian filmmakers Jean Parsons and Jennifer Chiu founded self-directed studies as a film-based artist collective. Parsons and Chiu traveled to Madre de Dios in the Peruvian Amazon with director of photography Farhad Ghaderi to make a documentary that explores what it means to conserve one of the most precious forests in the world—and the various people upon whose shoulders this responsibility now sits.
From the city streets of Puerto Maldonado, into the outskirts of the jungle, then deep into the Tambopata National Reserve the project takes audiences into a series of unique worlds within the forest and beyond. We see the lives of a Peruvian miner and a British scientist whose living laboratory could save the forest from deforestation caused by cattle farming. We meet one of the oldest surviving cattle ranchers in Madre de Dios—an 84-year-old woman who continues to work her land and animals each day. We visit the oldest eco-tourist and scientific research lodge in the Peruvian Amazon to understand how tourism is used as a form of conservation. And, finally, we see daily life with a young indigenous woman raised in the forest who, paradoxically, must live and work in the city in order to preserve her community and her culture.
Interspersed with tableaus of daily life on the roadsides, riverbanks, small streams, and city streets of Madre de Dios, the film serves as a collaged portrait of this unique and mythological place in the world.
Words and images by Jean Parsons and Jennifer Chiu
We are Jean Parsons and Jennifer Chiu—two filmmakers from Vancouver, Canada and founders of the film collective, self-directed studies. We are interested in themes that consider the social and political issues of race, gender, history, and the environment and we work to produce cinematic, humanistic work that draws upon the poetic logic of cinema.
Together, we try to explore the complex social realities of space and place through very intimate stories about individual people. For us, each project begins with a question and each film is a process of discovery that aims to understand the many different perspectives at play within the site-specific societies that we’re exploring as well as their relationship to our larger, global society.
With director of photography Farhad Ghaderi, we traveled to the Madre de Dios region of Peru to shoot a film about conservation in the Amazon and what it means for the various local and global interests that converge in this beautiful, special, and endangered place.
Coming from British Columbia, Canada, which itself has a vast rainforest that’s at risk from climate change and extractive industries, this is an idea that hit close to home for us, despite taking place halfway around the world.
The f-stop SHINN was invaluable for getting our gear in and out of remote locations. We took the backpack on hours-long boat rides down the Tambopata River, into primary rainforest, and across remote farmlands accessible only by dirt roads and our tiny vehicle. We shot using the Arri Amira and a set of Cooke prime lenses. There would have been no way to safely trek through jungle terrain with that kind of camera kit without the SHINN. It absolutely elevated what we were able to visually achieve on this shoot.
We just received funding to make a scripted short called Spring Tide, which we’ll be shooting next summer on one of the Gulf Islands, off the western coast of Canada. The film is a semi-autobiographical exploration of the moment in a young girl’s life when she realizes her sexual objectification in society.