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GRINGO CHIEF – Documentary Film

This documentary film is in production. We finished our first phase of production and are looking forward to continuing to our second phase.

GRINGO CHIEF tells the unlikely story of Randy Borman, a blue-eyed white American who was born in Amazon, raised among the Cofan people, and is now one of their leaders.

This is not a film about a “white savior of brown natives.” This documentary tells the remarkable personal journey of a white-skinned Cofan who uses his intercultural knowledge to defend what is dear to him and his people — the rainforest.

The film is Randy’s intimate portrait told told within the context of the Cofan’s history and the challenges they face to survive — the devastating effects of oil, mining, logging, and colonization.

Through the film, the audience will explore why Randy, instead of settling in the developed world, went back to the Amazon, married a Cofan woman, and became an indigenous rights and environmental activist, confronting oil companies and recovering more than a million acres of ancestral land.

 

The following is the crowdfunding video created in 2018:

The film industry has bombarded us with stories about white men who save brown people. Randy’s story is not like that.

I first heard about Randy Borman, the “Gringo Chief,” in 2010 when I read an article about him. His personal story intrigued me: a white-skinned Cofan, wow! How did that happen? Why hadn’t I heard of him before? As a native Ecuadorian, I was surprised that I had never heard his story.

 

 

Randy Borman  was born in the Ecuadorian Amazon and was only two months old when his missionary parents took him to a Cofán village. He grew up there, running around barefoot, hunting lizards, and swimming in the river like any other Cofán child.

 

The arrival of oil companies in the Ecuadorian Amazon in the 70’s meant tremendous changes in the life of the Cofán.  As a young adult, Randy realized that his home and his community were going to disappear. Since then, he has worked behind the scenes helping the Cofán fight for their rights.

One day in 1991, he traveled to Quito with Cofán leaders to discuss their rights to own ancestral land with politicians. As a white man, wearing a suit, and the son of missionaries, his intentions accompanying the Cofán might have been misinterpreted. “Who is this gringo, anyway?” They might have said say. The Cofán leaders, who knew him well, asked Randy to take off his suit and join them as a Cofán. Randy went to the meetings wearing his Cofán clothes and, ever since, his role has been different. He is now a primary leader, no longer behind the scenes.

Over the years, he’s worked to create many projects related to science, ecotourism, preservation of biodiversity, mapping and recovering Cofán land, and protecting their territory. He has received awards, for his efforts in conservation. One of his largest accomplishments was the creation of the Cofán Survival  Fund.

 

Although he studied and spent years in the US, he kept coming home, to the Amazon. In his 30’s he married Amelia, a Cofán woman. They now have three kids and two grandchildren together. It makes him immensely proud to see his grandchildren enjoying the forest the same way he did. He’s gracious that his activism, for indigenous rights and the environment, has made it possible.

Randy’s story is a is a fascinating tale of culture, race, identity, and community. He has taken advantage of his “whiteness” to help his people. His intercultural knowledge allows him to speak with the representatives of international NGOs in English; deal with ministers and politicians in Quito in Spanish; and meet with Cofán leaders speaking A’ingae (the Cofán Language.)

Through my reporting, I have had long conversations with Randy via Skype and over the phone. I also read A Future for Amazonia: Randy Borman and Cofán Environmental Politics, by professor of anthropology Michael Cepek. I interviewed Randy on camera in 2016. Randy’s life and his worldview are unique.

The “Gringo Chief” phenomenon and Randy’s openness with the media has been the subject of articles and videos. Still, his fascinating personal journey and his activism should be better known.

As a storyteller and a filmmaker, I feel compelled to share his story with the world. However, Randy’s incredible portrait can only be told with the story of the Cofán. Indigenous people around the world, like the Cofán, are guardians of the forests. I want my film to create the awareness that these people are protecting their ancestral land and  stabilizing the world’s climate.. At least a quarter of forest carbon is stored on communal land. This is the untold side of the climate change story and it must receive more prominence in our global dialogue. If indigenous people lost their land, the whole planet loses too.

 

 

I have filmed in the Amazon twice and I’m very familiar with the unique needs and concerns of that particular environment. I won eight awards for A Wild Idea, a short documentary film about the protection of the Amazon. I am confident that I will make a beautiful and significant movie that will appeal to  a broad audience and can be found in different media as Film Theaters or streaming services that are really affordable now a days, so you can view shows and save online.

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