My Positive Life…
Celine Cousteau


We sit down with renowned filmmaker and charity ambassador Celine Cousteau regarding her upcoming launch of groundbreaking documentary film Tribes on the Edge.


We get a sneak peak into what to expect from the film, her experiences of meeting the tribes and who inspires her most



What drives you to make and produce documentary films?

The medium of documentary film I think is a very powerful place to communicate stories and messages with a general audience, to get them to understand and be inspired by a story. We are visual communicators and I think that documentary films have the potential to have a powerful impact. What’s important is what we do with those films and the follow through. It’s one thing to create a documentary film, it’s another to use it as a catalyst for change, and that’s what I hope to do with Tribes on the Edge.

What drives me to make them and produce them, really, is this knowledge that they are powerful agents for creating change and inspiring the audience. There’s also a wonderful creative side to it, which is the interpretation of a story. Because if we were to relay the stories exactly as they were told to us it might not entice the audience as much. So the crafting and the post-production is really a creative process that is quite intricate and important to understand.


Celine Cousteau conducting interviews for the Tribes on the Edge documentary in Boa Vista in the Vale do Javari, Brazil.


What surprised you most about meeting the tribes?

When I met these specific tribes for the first time in 2007 I was really shocked by the high rates of hepatitis that were being shared with us. It was thought that at least 80% of the population has some form of hepatitis A, B, C and Delta. And that was something that profoundly shocked me and intrigued me, wanting to do something more beyond the film that I was working on at that time, which was called Return to the Amazon.

I had looked to putting together a campaign to bring healthcare to do Javari territory. But I was living outside of Brazil, I was not involved on a daily basis on this effort and it proved to be something that was beyond my scope of possibility. In part because the Brazilian government is very protective about what happens on indigenous territory. And although they say they have all the facilities to deal with the healthcare issues, there’s no funding or effort actually made and there are barriers put up for international organisations trying to do the same.

A big surprise for me was to find out about these health rates. Second, was the sophistication of their understanding that they are living in a world of duality. That is to say that they continue to practice, and appreciate, and want to have their traditional culture and practices of hunting and fishing, and living in family rearing and on their land. And at the same time they’re wearing Western clothing, they understand cellphones and when they exit the indigenous territory to go to town and connect to some kind of internet system, they get on Facebook. So I think that this duality between the two worlds was something that really took me by surprise and at the same time, I gained a understanding and a appreciation for where they are.

These are cultures that are living in transition. They are living in duality and it can coexist. We don’t have to see things in have or have not, or in black or white. It really is that space in between and they should be able to live their lives by choice, that if they want to continue living sustainably on their land, in balance with their environment, hunting, and fishing, and harvesting, and building their homes, they should be able to do that. This is their territory, this is their land. And if they want to wear shorts and T-shirts, they should be able to do that as well and it is not something that we should be surprised, I guess, anymore or shocked over that this is the way that these societies live in their current reality.


Celine Cousteau and the Cause Centric crew recording an interview with a Marubo cheif in the village of Boa Vista in the Vale do Javari, Brazil.


What was the most challenging part in producing the film?

The film was the result of a request of the tribes of do Javari for me to tell their story to the world. And because they chose me to do that, because it was a request, I did not want to sell the film before it was complete, which meant I had to do the film completely independently. Finding the funding has been extremely difficult. Although there are a lot of funding possibilities and distribution possibilities, they all involve selling the film and typically that means handing over some of the creative control of the production process and the storyline. And I wanted to stay true to their request and that meant doing it on my own.

So finding funding to actually go on these expeditions, bring teams in several years in a row was very tough. Second, being able to resist the circumstances of this work, and be resistant to the stories themselves, takes a lot of conviction. My conviction was tested over and over again that I would be able to complete the film, that this was going to make a difference and that happened in many ways from the circumstances we were in, in terms of the environment, and the difficult filming conditions.

There was one team member that was potentially in a fatal situation and having to return the year after to finish filming really meant digging deep into the energy needed to continue with this kind of project, but I firmly believe that when we are faced with adversity if we stand stronger through the adversity, when our conviction has been tested, then I really believe we are worthy of taking the project on in the first place. And I feel that that has been a true test of my ability to be resistant through any of the challenges and to stay the course.

I also told them that I would tell their story to the world and I hold my word. That is something that is very important for me personally. I also believe that it is a measure of my integrity in this work. I did not want to stop the project simply because there was difficulties in creating the project. In fact, it made me want to create something bigger.

So the film will be a catalyst for the impact campaign and that is the really important part that can create change. The impact campaign will use the film and all of the possibilities it offers us to access an audience and not just create awareness through public, private and festival screenings, but we are creating an education campaign to bring relevant information at the moment into the US school system through digital distribution and Skype in the classroom access to experts in my network, but we are planning to do the same in Brazil, into the Brazilian school system.

Any country institution, academic or other, that would like to adapt the educational content and distribute in their country can work with us to do that, so we can really reach a much wider audience at a younger age and begin to create a global understanding of our interconnectivity with what is happening not just to these tribes but why it’s relevant to the rest of us across the planet.

At the core of all of this indigenous tribes need to be seen as the custodians of our ecosystem. 4% of our global population is made of traditional and indigenous communities, and they protect 80% of biodiversity. And that is something that we need to profoundly understand and respect, but also become a part of the solution. We’re hoping that the awareness and the education can help bring light to that and honour the request the tribes made of me to tell their story to the world. I took it one step further to really interpret that, in every way possible bring our story to the world.

The third component is the advocacy campaign and we are working in partnership with Amazon Watch and hoping to bring together a contingency of nonprofit organisations that can help us spread the word, but with Amazon Watch we will be working with Brazilian nonprofit organisations to continue to defend indigenous land rights in Brazil. This is something that is essential in their future survival and is a major threat. The communications and advocacy campaign is something that will continue for several years after the film, and the awareness and education is about a one year campaign.


Celine Cousteau instructing our indiginous sound volunteer on how to hold the microphone while filming the Tribes on the Edge documentary in Boa Vista in the Vale do Javari, Brazil.


What is sustainability to you?

Sustainability to me really is about balance. Balance in the ecosystem, balance in our relationship with — or the way we consume, the way we behave. It is also our interconnectivity with other people and this idea of a global whole not just separate entities. Being able to see the entire cycle of something from its extraction to its use is sustainability, in creating in that system a system that is holistic, that respects human life, that respects the environment in the process.

It was actually in 2007 I interviewed a man and asked him, “How do you live sustainability in your environment?” He looked at me not really understanding what I meant by the question, so I decided to define sustainability and I simply said, “Balance with your environment.” And he still looked at me not understanding the question. I realised in that moment that he didn’t have a definition or a response for me because the word sustainability didn’t exist for the simple reason that there was no other way to live. And that shed a lot of light on where we have come now which is actually, I think, a great and positive place which is we are returning to something that we intrinsically knew. We are just now having to redefine what that looks like in our modern societies.


Who most inspires you most?

The people that inspire me are the people who are on the ground fighting every day for their freedom, for their rights, who are fighting for others. It’s grassroots nonprofit organisations, it’s individuals. They don’t necessarily have an international stage, they don’t have access to high net worth individuals, they don’t have access to policy makers, but they firmly believe in the difference that they can make at their grassroots level. And that is very inspiring because they don’t necessarily see the barriers. They just know what they need to do.

The people that inspire me anywhere are those who continue working for the benefit of others because in the end that benefits themselves. When they are met with adversity, when they have their conviction tested, they stand stronger. It’s okay to be knocked down. I think what really matters is the strength of the character of what you do after that. So that for me is inspirational and it doesn’t have to be big, it doesn’t have to be worldwide, it can be very local. I just feel that people’s passion and energy is something they should put towards good and when you see that happen it’s energising.


Celine Cousteau going through some vocabulary in multiple languages with the youth of the Matis tribe in Tawaya in the Vale do Javari, Brazil.


What gets you out of bed in the morning?

My five year old! Would be one answer, but I also love what I do. I believe in what I do. I feel like I live my life with a purpose and a vision that is much greater than my own space and my own home, that goes to something beyond me, and being able to really believe in that is a luxury.


What is your positive luxury?

My positive luxury is that I get to live a life I believe in. I get to live a life of cause and purpose and that will hopefully inspire others to do the same.




Tribes on the Edge will be launched next year, follow the story here 

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