2021 Digital Video Storytelling, Medium Form winner

Siona: Amazon’s Defenders Under Threat


Judges comments

A beautiful, cinematic experience showing the real-life consequences of a decades-long war and the native people still struggling to clear their ancestral homeland of deadly land mines.

About the Project

“Siona: Amazon’s Defenders Under Threat” is a short documentary film commissioned by The New Yorker, supported by the Pulitzer Center and directed by Tom Laffay. Set in the Colombian Amazon, the film follows Adiela Mera Paz, a Siona Indigenous leader, as she deactivates landmines in her ancestral territory making it possible for her people displaced by armed conflict to return.

The presence of landmines has confined the Siona to just a small territory, and has made hunting and fishing prohibitively high-risk while also infringing on their spiritual practices. The landmines were planted by FARC guerrillas during the decades-long internal armed conflict against the Colombian government, which, despite a recent Peace Accord, has not abated. In 2009, Colombia’s Constitutional Court declared the Siona people—whose ancestral territory is along the Putumayo River dividing Colombia and Ecuador—victims of extremely serious human rights violations and “in danger of being physically and culturally exterminated by the internal armed conflict.” Pressured on all sides by armed conflict and encroaching oil companies, the Siona continue to protect their land and cultures against the odds.

Adiela’s personal story is the core of the film, portraying a young Indigenous leader living on the frontlines of climate change and conflict. Combining observational scenes with Adiela’s personal testimony, the film asks the viewer if empowering women like Adiela and the culture she defends will be enough to protect the environment. This nuanced approach strives to illuminate deeper rooted issues facing Indigenous communities who, if the Amazon is to be protected, must be at the forefront of its defense.”