I traveled to the Brazilian Amazon on several occasions between 1987 and 1990 to assist on television documentaries. During my journeys, I had the opportunity to visit many Indigenous communities, always with my camera by my side. What caught my eye were the children. Born to parents who had relied on the rainforest for their survival, these children were growing up surrounded by new ways — ways that were destroying the forest.
I was also drawn to the children of the rubber tappers … the people who harvest the wild rubber trees. The trees they relied on were also being cut down. I photographed the legendary rubber tapper Chico Mendes and his family. Chico had become renowned the world over for his nonviolent resistance movement to protect the rainforest.
15 years later — and a world away — I returned to these slides, which were never printed, never shared. The images brought back a particularly searing memory: a phone call from Chico in December 1988, asking me to film his funeral. I told him he was crazy, he wasn’t going to die, he had too much work to do. Two weeks later he was shot dead by a rancher. Stirred by faces of the children in my photographs and haunted by Chico’s untimely death, I was inspired to travel to the Amazon again — this time, to make a movie.
While I expected change, I was not prepared for the extent of it. So much of the forest had been destroyed. My response to the loss is the creation of Children of the Amazon — a tribute to a people struggling to save their forest home. But the goal of the film is more than to bear witness. I hope to offer insight to a distant and remote land while simultaneously drawing connections to our own lives. For we are, all of us, children of the Amazon — breathing the same air, walking the same planet, and in some sense that we have yet to understand, sharing the same fate.
Denise Zmekhol, Producer/Director
Working on social issue documentaries as well as in commercial arenas, Zmekhol combines a public affairs sensibility with a commercial director’s visual acumen. A Sao Paulo native, Zmekhol studied social communication and journalism in Brazil, and completed her studies in photography, film, and broadcasting at San Francisco State University. Early in her career, Zmekhol worked as a news cameraperson in San Francisco and later as associate producer on the acclaimed documentary Landscape of Memories. When she returned to Brazil in 1987, Zmekhol assisted on numerous documentaries filmed in the Amazon. In addition to her film work, she photographed extensively, producing the photo exhibition Children of the Amazon, and shooting the last photographs of the renowned rubber tapper and environmental activist Chico Mendes before his assassination. Her photos of Mendes appeared in Time Magazine and other publications worldwide. During the ’90s, Zmekhol worked as a freelance producer for various Sao Paulo production companies, creating marketing and public relations projects for Kellogg’s, Max Factor, Pepsi, General Motors, Fiat, and others. She quickly advanced to commercial directing, working on political and consumer spots. In 1998, Zmekhol returned to the United States to co-produce and co-direct Digital Journey, an Emmy Award-winning public television series exploring emerging technologies in their social, environmental, and cultural contexts. Zmekhol has recently completed her film project Children of the Amazon, an ITVS co-production about the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and its hope for the future.