When Two Men Went To The Amazon To Build A Canoe And Film ‘DugOut’ They Discovered Some Interesting Truths

James Trundle and Ben Sadd lived with an indigenous tribe in the Amazon for five weeks to build their own canoe and make an adventure movie called DugOut – it soon became about more than the boat…

The pair of film-makers wanted to get under the skin of a moment in time when indigenous tribes in the Amazon are being slowly absorbed by the Western way of life, moving from being reliant on the jungle to a different world. They found out about a Huaorani community – the tribe had been discovered in the 1950s. ‘We both like making things so we thought: “OK could we forge a relationship with a community through our passion for craftsmanship?”’ James Trundle tells RISING. ‘The dugout seemed a good fit and we started to look for communities that still had craftsmanship at their core.’

1. You Have To Be Patient To Avoid Cliches The drive for the movie came out of the pair’s desire to film an ambitious project, but also from frustration with the cliches in adventure movies, of ‘heroic man goes here, does stuff, moves on!’ So, they decided to spend five weeks filming making a dugout canoe from scratch, with Bay Nenquiwi the 60-year old grandfather of the Huaorani family, who seems to have been fitter than they were, and definitely better at swinging an axe. ‘You’ve got to be willing to be patient to really get to know people, particularly people like this who are going to be around for such a short period of time, I think,’ says Trundle.

2. You Don’t Have To Suffer To Be Authentic Lots of adventure films, and reality survival shows, feature people filming themselves while suffering through some horrendous trial of endurance, which can be compelling to watch. DugOut isn’t like that, even when the pair take their canoe onto the waters of the Amazon and paddle it downriver, camping in the jungle. ‘It was never about difficulty, we don’t know how far we went. At no point did I want to cry and quit,’ says Trundle. ‘Suffering contains an authenticity about your personal experience but I don’t think it opens up the world to anything new – it’s the difference between an adventure film that’s about me and an adventure film that’s about somewhere else.’

We didn’t just make canoes – watching them work in the jungle taught us so much

3. It’s Not Necessary To Ask Questions To Learn A big part of the film is the pair picking up the skills and knowledge they need to learn to operate in the Amazon, day by day. Trundle saw that Bay Nenquiwi was able to get all he needed from the jungle. ‘We didn’t just make canoes – watching them work in the jungle taught us so much. You don’t have to ask questions you just have to observe and imitate just like a child.’ The pair learnt how to make things from the jungle’s materials and avoid being bitten by deadly pit vipers. ‘Like why do they chop as they walk? They are not necessarily clearing a way, they are alerting snakes to move from their path.’

4. The Jungle Is Dangerous But It Doesn’t Have To Be Scary Armed with a bit of knowledge the pair still found the jungle very intimidating, until they saw how the local children treated it. ‘We went off into the jungle for a three hour walk to get some honey. And watching kids walk barefoot through the jungle, when I’ve got my special jungle boots on, it undermines that in a really healthy way because you approach it much more playfully.’

Even when they did come across critters that could kill them they were more relaxed about it. Ben woke up one night and was like, “Trundies, come here.” He had found himself accidentally pissing on the deadliest snake in the Amazon and it just slithered away into the jungle!’

So much about life is just making the choice to do it – it’s that simple

5. Everything Always Changes One of the most affecting things about DugOut is that soon after it was made the village that the filmmakers stayed in ceased to exist. ‘After we left we found out that the Huaorani arranged to sell the rights to the jungle to the oil companies,’ says Trundle. ‘We saw some of the younger generation who had the knowledge but you could see they were torn between these two worlds. They celebrated their traditional ways but it became apparent that the Western lure was really strong.’

6. It’s Easy To Find Excuses Not To Do Something You might think that to make an independent film with the relatively high production values like DugOut would require big-money sponsorship – in fact, it was self-funded. ‘The cost isn’t that far away from a glorified holiday,’ says Trundle. ‘So much about life is just making the choice to do it – it’s that simple. For a lot of adventure films you have to be really good at something, like an epic climber whereas Ben and I are not really remarkable at anything, we just made a choice to make a film.’

‘So, choose an ambitious goal and just do it. Everything in my life that has brought me so much happiness and has felt so rewarding is the stuff that people have said: “Yeah I’ve never heard of anyone doing that before.”’

WHAT NEXT? Watch the trailer for DugOut and get a glimpse of a fascinating, disappearing world of a people in tune with the jungle – the film is being screened at the EOFT film tour…

Follow the writer @mattfitnessray