Tuesday, June 21, 2011
When it comes to films that relate to comparative environmental law, the pickings are slim. But there is one film that stands out for me: They Killed Sister Dorothy.
Sister Dorothy Stang, an American-born nun who became a Brazilian citizen, would have turned 80 years old on July 7, 2011. But she was killed in February 2005 in the Brazilian Amazon, where she worked on behalf of poor peasant farmers. She helped lead an effort to establish a “Sustainable Development Project” (PDS, Projeto de Desenvolvimento Sustentável), in which peasant farmers are given a 250-acre plot of land on the condition that they farm only 20% of it, or 50 acres, and leave the other 200 acres uncut. Major conflict arose when large ranchers claimed that the land on which Sister Dorothy and the farmers wanted to establish the PDS was theirs. Ultimately, Sister Dorothy was murdered, shot six times at point-blank range.
The film is excellent for a comparative environmental law class not just because it illustrates the conflict involved in protecting Brazilian rainforests, but also because it has extensive footage of the trials of two ranchers implicated in the murder. I don’t know of any other environmentally-related film which focuses so much on another country’s legal system and legal actors. The filmmakers interview the ranchers’ lawyers as well as Brazilian public prosecutors and capture their strategizing on tape. The film also allows you to look inside the courtroom to form your own opinion about whether the criminal legal proceedings were fair.
Of course, as you watch the film, you should keep in mind how many murders occur because of land disputes in the Amazon and how few of the murderers are actually brought to trial. The film tells us that out of 800 murders that had occurred over land disputes in the Amazon, there had been only six trials, and only one person had been sent to jail. As someone in the film says, “those with money in Brazil don’t go to jail.”
They Killed Sister Dorothy (2008, 93 mins): On the murder of Sister Dorothy Stang and deforestation in the Amazon (Netflix)
Flow: For Love of Water (2008): about growing water scarcity worldwide (Netflix)
Crapshoot: The Gamble with our Wastes (2003, 52 mins): About sewage and waste water in the US and other countries
- Lesley McAllister