Vom Roraima zum Orinoco by Theodor Koch-Grünberg
The journals provided me with all the materials for the stories. The funny thing is, the crazier something seems on screen, the closer it is to what really happened. For example the Messiah sequence really happened – I don’t have that much imagination! It’s all in the journals of Koch-Grünberg, the story of a Colombian rubber worker who arrived at the border of Colombia and Brazil in the 19th century and proclaimed himself to be the Messiah and he got to have thousands of followers.
Amazonian stories are incomprehensible to us, but I think it’s a fascinating way of telling stories, so the narrative is heavily influenced by myths – for example in the structure of the two explorers. There was an anecdote in the second volume of Vom Roraima zum Orinoco about when he arrived with the Taulipang people and they kept talking about the myth of Surumbuku. He writes “I don’t understand why they keep referring to this myth over and over again” and after a while he realised that Surumbuku is [19th-century explorer Robert] Schomburgk. Not only that, they see him, Koch-Grünberg, as being the same person. So this idea of a single spirit travelling in the bodies of different men, is completely Amazonian, but it was something that we could understand. So for me it was a click because it was a way into Amazonian thinking, understanding time and storytelling.
Macunaíma by Mário de Andrade
There was one book in particular which I might not call a source of inspiration, but it was definitely a dialogue I was in. Macunaíma is considered one of the greatest works of Brazilian literature. In the 19th century, Mário de Andrade collected the second volume of Koch-Grünberg, all those myths, and he made a novel based on that. It is also almost incomprehensible but it’s fascinating and it definitely gave me ideas. During the research I also read Amazonian literature. In Colombia we only have one book published 100 years ago called La vorágine by José Eustasio Rivera, and it’s the great Amazonian novel in Colombia. I was also reading Peruvian authors and Brazilian authors – in particular César Calvo – because they have a much more active and fertile Amazonian literature.