“It was strange and also quite frightening in a way,” says director John Boorman. He’s not talking about the movie but the time he spent living with an isolated Indian tribe in the depths of the Amazon, Bruce Parry-style. At night, the shaman offered him trance-like trips. “He took me to meet the ancestors and across the forest. I realised how rich their life was…”
Out of this experience grew The Emerald Forest: part adventure yarn, part ethnographic doc. Shot like something from National Geographic’s pages, it beckons us into the green as a dam-building engineer (Powers Boothe) searches for his seven-year-old son (Charley Boorman, the director’s nipper and Ewan McGregor’s biker mate) after he’s kidnapped by rainforest tribesmen.
Like Apocalypse Now or one of Herzog’s jungle movies, the production was action-rammed, too. “We were shooting in the most remote places,” recalls Boorman on the disc’s only extra – a 30-minute interview in which he recounts stories about being kidnapped by cops and hiring Indians to play the indigenous extras.
But the headaches were worth it. The Emerald Forest stands as one of this variable filmmaker’s greatest achievements, building on the eco-theme of his backwoods horror flick Deliverance. Boothe’s careless First Worlder thinks nothing of destroying the fragile forest until he sees the damage first hand. “They are taking the skin off the world,” warns a tribesman as the bulldozers advance. “How will she breathe?” Twenty-three years on, this ravishing film poses a question that still hasn’t been answered.