The Salt of the Earth (2014) - full transcript

For the last 40 years, the photographer Sebastião Salgado has been travelling through the continents, in the footsteps of an ever-changing humanity. He has witnessed some of the major events of our recent history; international conflicts, starvation and exodus. He is now embarking on the discovery of pristine territories, of wild fauna and flora, and of grandiose landscapes as part of a huge photographic project which is a tribute to the planet's beauty. - stop by if you're interested in the nutritional composition of food
WIM WENDERS: A film about
the life of a photographer?

Maybe it's good
at the beginning

to remember where
the word comes from.

In Greek,
"photo" meant "light."

"Graph" was "writing,

A photographer is literally
somebody drawing with light.

A man writing and rewriting the
world with light and shadows.


The Serra-Pelada,
Brazil's gold mine...

there before me!

When I reached the edge
of that enormous hole...

every hair on my
body stood on end.

I'd never seen
anything like it.

Here, in a split second,
I saw unfolding before me...

the history of mankind...

The building of
the pyramids...

the Tower of Babel...

the mines of King Solomon...

Not the sound of a single
machine could be heard.

All you could hear...

was the babble of 50,000
people in one huge hole.

noises, human sounds...

mingled with the
sounds of manual labor...

I had returned to
the dawn of time.

I could almost hear the gold
whispering in the souls of these men.



All this earth
had to be removed.

It's not all gold.

The guys had to
climb small ladders...

leading to bigger ones...

to emerge at the top.

You wouldn't want
to fall down there!

If you fell from the top you'd
risk taking others with you.

I'd climb up
several times a day...

but I never thought I'd fall.

Nobody else fell.

You were there to
carry sacks, not to fall.

And in my case,
to take photos.

These guys climbed it
50 or 60 times a day.

The only way
to get down such a slope...

is by running.

If you stop, you fall.

All these men together formed
an extremely organized world...

but in complete madness.

You get the impression
they're slaves...

but there wasn't
a single slave.

They were only slaves
to the idea of getting rich.

Everybody wanted to get rich.

There were all sorts: intellectuals,
university graduates...

farm employees...

urban workers...

People from all walks of life
were trying their luck.

Because when you'd
hit a vein of gold...

everyone working that little
section of the mine...

had the right to
choose one sack.

And in that sack
that they chose...

- and this is
the slavery aspect-

there might be nothing
or a kilo of gold!

At that very moment
one's freedom was at stake.

Men who come into
contact with gold...

can never leave it.

WENDERS: I first saw this
picture here, in a gallery,

more than 20 years ago.

I had no idea who took it.

Whoever it was had to be
both a great photographer

and an adventurer, I thought.

There was a stamp on the back
and a signature,

Sebastião Salgado.

I acquired the print.

The gallerist
pulled other pictures,

by the same photographer,
from a drawer.

What I saw
profoundly moved me,

especially this image here,

a portrait of
a blind Tuareg woman.

It still moves me to tears,
even if I see it every day,

as it's hanging over
my desk ever since.

So one thing I knew already
about this Sebastião Salgado,

he really cared about people.

That meant a lot, in my book.

After all, people are
the salt of the earth.

It took a while until
we finally met and talked

about his life, his work,

and where it was
all coming from.


If you put too many
photographers in one place...

they'll all take
very different pictures.

Because they
necessarily come...

from very diverse places.

Each one forms
their way of seeing...

according to their history.

I feel that in my case...

I learned to shape my way of
seeing here, in this place.

Here I have
an idea of the planet.

I'd go for long
walks with my father...

across this farm.

We'd come here to look.



Behind each mountain there's a
story, there's something to see.




I'd dream a lot here.

I wanted to go beyond the
mountains, I wanted to know.















Sebastião was such a rascal!

He was always traveling...

like no one I'd ever seen.

My dad was the same,
he never stopped.

Back and forth,
like a shuttle.

Just like Sebastião.

You'd think he was in Vitoria,
but he'd already be here...

or up north doing politics.

Without his fellow students he
wouldn't have finished his studies.

Tiao was a scamp
when it came to studying.

He was a handful, but he managed
to get his economics degree.

I wanted him to be a lawyer.

He did one year...

then switched to economics,
which was good for him.

was Sebastião Salgado.

The father, that is.

He passed his name on
to his only son, who,

even if he remained a restless
traveler for all his life,

did profit from the studies
his dad had obliged him to

in ways he could not have
anticipated himself.

His education as an economist

equipped him with
a solid knowledge

of global markets,
trade and industry,

so he knew what was
driving the world.

For our man, it all
started in the little town

of Aimorés, in central Brazil.

There was his father's cattle
farm under the big sky.

There were vast
Atlantic rain forests.

There was the river,
still navigable at the time.

But most of all, there were the endless
trains running by,(TRAIN HORN BLOWING)

filled to the brim with
minerals and iron ore,

that would go from
here into the world.

After all,
this was and still is

the biggest mining
region on the planet.

This is where young
Sebastião grew up,

the only boy
among seven sisters,

what a life!


WENDERS: All summers long, he played
on the banks (WATER STREAMING)

of the Rio Doce,
the "Sweet River."

That's where you are now.

And here we are,
our little documentary crew.


WENDERS: I learned one thing.

Having a photographer
in front of your camera

is very different from
filming anybody else.

He would not just be there and
act like himself, so to speak.

No, by profession,
he reacts and responds

using his weapon of choice, his
photo camera- (SHUTTER CLICKING)

Our man shoots back.


Wim, I have
a nice shot of you.


And I got one of you!

I bet you did!

WENDERS: In this case, he
wasn't just shooting at me.


WENDERS: He had two of us
in front of his lens.

The other guy, my fellow director,
was his oldest son, Juliano.

He had already
accompanied his father

with his camera on
several journeys,

like to Papua New Guinea,
which you just saw before,

or here, to a remote island

far north on
the East Siberian Sea.

I wish I could
have gone there, too.



Father and son Salgado
invited me to join them

and continue
this film together,

to add an outside view
to their adventure, I guess.

I didn't hesitate a bit.

What else could I ask for?

I would finally
get to know this man,

find out what was driving him,

and why his work had left
such an impression on me.

Little did I know that
I was going to discover

much more than
just a photographer.



Sebastião was 15 years old
when he took the train

to leave the little
country town for good,

to go to high school in the
provincial capital of Vitoria.

Our young man
didn't know, at first,

what to do with
the money in his pockets.

He had never paid
for anything in cash.

At the farm, they had produced
everything themselves,

so he stayed hungry during the
first weeks in the big city,

afraid of going into a pub and
just ordering something to eat.

We are in the dark what
Sebastião would have become

if this young woman here
hadn't entered the picture.


She was 17, a music student,
and utterly beautiful.

It was love at first sight.

When Sebastião got a scholarship
for a master in economics

at a university in São Paulo,

they moved there
and got married.


Where in the mid-'60s,

they were both
involved in leftist politics,

like a lot of their fellow students
in Paris, Berlin or Chicago.

Brazil was under the reign of a
brutal military dictatorship,

so there was a daily danger
of being arrested,

deported and tortured.

In August of 1969,

Sebastião and Lélia
left their home country

and took a boat to France.

While Sebastião continued
his formation as economist,

Lélia studied architecture.

One memorable day, she bought
a photo camera for her work,

and the one who had all the
fun with it was Sebastião.

The first picture he ever took
was of Lélia, of course.

And then Sebastião got a job at the
International Coffee Organization

and they moved to London.

Heading for a career
at the World Bank,

he often traveled to Africa to
survey development projects.

He would take
Lélia's camera with him,

and would always come back
with lots of pictures.

Realizing that
these photographs

gave him so much more pleasure
than his economic reports,

the two of them made
a bold decision together.

He should take
the enormous risk,

abandon a promising, well-paid
career as an economist,

and start from scratch.

They moved back to Paris
and invested all they had

in expensive photo equipment.

For a while, Sebastião tried
his hand at sports,

did portraits,
weddings and even nudes,

before he found his vocation.


These were
my first photographs.

We were in
the city of Tahoua.

Young mothers were
standing in line...

to get some food...

as there'd been a severe
drought in Niger in '73.

For Lélia it was tough,
because she was pregnant.

I remember, we were
in that very place...

living at a friend's home
at Niamey...

when the local
Marabout came by.

Lélia was wearing shorts,
she was really pretty.

And the Marabout sat down...

and said to her...

"Come sit on my lap!"

"Oh," I said...

"Mr. Marabout,
there's a slight problem...

"This woman is pregnant...

"with our first child.

"So it's best she stays put."

So he understood that...

it wasn't
the right synchronicity.

So we talked it over and he
left with a kilo of sugar...

as happy as if
it'd been Lélia.

WENDERS: Their son Juliano
was born in Paris in 1974.

Here he is, my future
pal and co-director.

Lélia continued to
support Sebastião

with all she could
as a young mother.

She worked hard,
parallel to her studies,

and presented Sebastião's
photographs everywhere,

to magazines,
newspapers and agencies.

And then, after a few
significant publications,

the two of them felt
encouraged to envision

a first big photographic
project on their own,

Otras Americas.

"The Other Americas."

It was going to take Sebastião
all across South America.

Little Juliano was getting
used to seeing his dad off

for long absences at a time.


Ever since we'd
left Brazil in 1969...

I'd deeply
missed South America.

So I decided to travel...

around Brazil's
neighboring countries:

Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia...

I dreamt of seeing the
mountains of South America...

the Andes.

At the time,
in South America...

there was a profound
social movement...

the "Liberation Theology".

And on this journey I met a
young priest, in Ecuador...

called Gabicho.

We were both young,
la photographer, he a priest.

He brought them
the word of God...

he organized the farmers into
cooperatives, introduced solidarity.

And since he had access
to all these communities...

those journeys I
made were extraordinary.

There we were,
over 3,000 meters up.

We'd climb 600 or
700 meters in a day.

It was a sheer delight
to live in this landscape...

among these communities.

These are the Saraguros, a tribe of
Indians in the south of Ecuador.

Very religious,
but also great drinkers.

Over half of them, at the
weekend, men and women...

would get totally drunk.

The villager on the left...

his name is Lupe, Guadalupe...

Lupe and I became very close.

At the time I had
very long hair...

long blond hair...

with a big,
reddish blond beard.

Walking with him
through the mountains...

one day he said to me,
"Listen, Sebastião.

"I know that you
were sent from heaven."

According to
the Saraguros' legends...

God, in the image of Christ...

was to return to
Earth to observe them...

to decide who'd go to heaven.

As we walked in the mountains,
he told me about his life.

He seriously believed that I'd
come as a special observer...

to report "up there"
about their behavior.

Never in my life
had I met a people...

with such
a different sense of time.

The time I spent with the Saraguros
felt like an entire century...

everything felt so slow.

It was another way of
thinking, a different rhythm.

There was
a fatalism on their faces.

This is in the state
of Oaxaca, in Mexico.

A group of farmers
called the Mixe.

It's all medieval,
the yoke, the plow...

This is deepest South America.

They were a country people...

but what
mattered most to them...

was music.

They were people
who adored music.

Every member of the community
able to play an instrument...

didn't have to do any work...

they worked as musicians.



They had me sleep
for several days...

in a very cold cement room...

to see if I could bear it,
if I really wanted to stay...

As I held out for
quite awhile...

they finally put
me up in a house...

and I grew much
closer to the community.

It was a pleasure for me.

We became close friends,
I felt good there.

This is in the north of Mexico.
The Tarahumara.

These people are great runners,
long-distance runners.

They don't walk, they run.

God, it was hell
trying to keep up.

They didn't walk, they flew!


That's a Tarahumara...

his face deeply
marked by life.

Beautiful hair,
fantastic hair.

People would
approach my camera...

and I had the impression
I was more a sound recorder.

They'd tell me things as if I
was recording their stories.

The power of a portrait lies in
that fraction of a second...

when you catch a glimpse
of that person's life.

The eyes say a lot,
the expression on the face...

When you take a portrait,
the shot is not yours alone.

The person offers it to you.

Those journeys
meant so much to me.

To come here
after all those years,

unable to set foot
in my own country.

The essence was the same. It was
my continent, we were so close.

WENDERS: Otras Americas
took Sebastião eight years.

On these journeys into
the deepest South America,

he simply disappeared
for extended periods of time.

Juliano largely grew up
with an absent father.

His parents could at least
write letters back and forth.

This was, of course, long before
any satellite communication.

Whenever he came
home in between,

to see his family and to edit
his photos together with Lélia,

Sebastião appeared like a
great adventurer to his son,

some kind of superhero,
rather than a photographer.

And jump cut...

30 years later.

I finally join my father
on one of his missions

to Wrangel, a deserted island
in the Arctic Ocean.

Sebastião was
hoping to photograph

the last big
congregations of walruses.

I wanted to find
out who that man was,

the man I had only
known as my father.

I wanted to discover
the photographer,

the adventurer,
for the first time.





Goddamn bear!

He tricked us.

He drove them all into the water.






What do you think?

What do you think, Dad?


I think it'll be complicated
to get this story.

If this is all we've got...



It's not just a matter

of getting close to a bear
and taking a picture.

If the framing is poor...

you'll just show the bear,
but it won't be a photo.

This spot is no good.

There's nothing in
the background...

nothing to compose
a well-framed picture.

No action, nothing.











All I could see
was the shape of their tusks.

Impossible to make out
the outline of their heads.

It was like being
in Dante's Inferno...

with those tusks protruding...

All those shapes...



Dad, what happened in 1979?


In '79, Lélia was pregnant
with our second son.

We knew it was a boy.

When Rodrigo was born...

he had all the signs
of Down's syndrome.

He was so cute with
his slanted eyes...

I felt he was
completely normal.

So did Lélia.

The doctor did a lot of tests. It
was three weeks before we knew.

On the day he called...

the tension was such...

that when I heard
the results, I cried.

I couldn't stop crying.

JULIANO: My baby brother
was never going

to be able to go to school
or learn how to read and write

like I would.

Rodrigo would be
isolated in a world

we would never
be able to share.

This was very
hard on my parents.

But then something happened.

Through his love, Rodrigo
developed a language of his own.

Slowly, as a family,

we learned to decipher
his emotional alphabet

and to
communicate without words.

Sometime later, my mum, my brother
and I took an airplane to Brazil.

The military
dictatorship had crumbled.

I was five, and I
didn't really understand

how important that
long trip was going to be.

At some point, a man
opened one of the blinds,

and direct sunlight
poured into the airplane.

His voice echoed
through the cabin,

"We're flying over Brazil."

My mum looked through the
window and went silent.

She was seeing her own country for
the first time, after so many years.

It was such a happy moment, and
yet, when she turned to me,

she was crying.

As for my father,
he was in French Guiana

and was going
to join us later.


It was December 31,
I'd returned to Brazil!

It was great to be home...

after ten and
a half years abroad.

It was a shock. Lélia's
hometown wasn't the same.

Vitoria had changed a lot.
Everything was different.

My region had
changed a lot too.

When I left my parents,
they were young and strong.

Upon returning, I found an old man.
My father had aged a lot.

But at that time...

I wanted to explore
Brazil more deeply.

My sister lent me a car...

and I made a six-month journey
in the North-East of Brazil.

I didn't know the North-East.

I'd always dreamt of
that part of Brazil.

These people were
going to a funeral.

I stopped by the roadside
and went with them.

Infant mortality was very high
in the North-East of Brazil.

These children died
before they were baptized.

They believe that children
who are not baptized...

don't have the right
to go to heaven.

They stay in
an in-between realm...

called limbo.

If a child dies with its eyes closed
it's because it was baptized.

If its eyes are open...

they leave them open
so it can find its way.

Otherwise it will
wander for eternity.

Back then, there was a service for
renting coffins at the church.

You could rent
a coffin cheaply.

It'd be used dozens of times.

There you can see
such a coffin rental service.

And yes, those are shoes.

They sold everything: shoes,
coffins, bananas, vegetables...

ice-cream, everything...

It's a region where life
and death are very close.

Here's a group
saying prayers...

and learning about politics
at the same time.

In Brazil there was,
and still is...

a big movement
called the "Landless Workers".

Many of them came from here...

from the North-East of Brazil.



These people...

have a moral strength...

a physical force...

even though they're
frail and eat poorly.

Look how arid this region is.

It's like a piece of
the Sahel in Brazil.

Here, on the road...

people are leaving,
never to return.

Sometimes it's so dry,
so difficult here...

that people migrate
to the southern cities.

For them it's over,
they abandon the land.


For many years now...

we've been suffering
from a lack of rain.

There were a lot of
cattle here before...

but they're all gone now.

There have been
severe droughts.

The pastures are gone,
it doesn't pay anymore.


Why has it gone, Grandfather?

Because of the drought.

We replanted, but there's
not a blade of grass left.

It wasn't that long ago.

Your dad and I...

we spent more than 20,000.

Where did it go?

This land was so plentiful.

There were lots of birds...

canaries and ticoticos...


There used to be a great
forest on that hill...

and another
forest over that hill.

There has been
a lot of erosion.

The hills are now barren.

When it rains...

there's nothing to
hold back the water.

It's a disaster.

I have no idea...

how to stop it.


Grandpa, were you
happy on this farm?



Were you happy here?


Was I happy?

I was, because I was able
to provide an education...

for my seven daughters...

and Sebastião.

I raised my children,
it was tough...

but I'm happy I did it.

I earned 100,000
from the woods alone...

to put the children
through school.

They were all
brought up well...

well fed, properly dressed...

JULIANO: Since I first
came to Brazil,

my grandfather's land
had always been this way,

burnt and dried out.

When Sebastião
came back to the farm

after his journeys
through North-East Brazil,

the place was hardly the paradise
he had known as a child.

But he had something
else on his mind,

the suffering he had
witnessed changed him.

His role as a photographer
took on a whole new meaning.

We understood
the urgency he felt to leave.

I still missed him a lot.

But I understood.

For his next project, which would take
him to the Sahel region of Africa,

Sebastião started to work
with Doctors Without Borders.


I worked in
Ethiopia in 1984...

and continued across the Sahel
in '85 and '86.

I spent almost two
years in that region...

reporting on the famine.

There were refugee camps...

the largest ever
seen in human history.

And I really
wanted to show that.

To show that a large
part of humanity...

was suffering from
great distress...

due to a problem of sharing...

and not just
a natural disaster.

This was a Coptic region.

They are very strict Christians,
the Northern Ethiopians.

They have great humility.

Even with a dying child...

they wouldn't get
in front of others.

They'd rather wait.

Look at the
state of the people.

At that stage,
they've no strength left.

They say people die of famine.

Famine weakens the body...

but it's the parallel
diseases that kill.

When you catch cholera,
the dehydration is so fast...

that you lose 12 liters of
water a day from diarrhea.

You die in two or three days.

Such young faces...

aged from so much suffering.

If you look at his forehead,
he's not an old man.

What's old about him
is the emptiness in his eyes.

Look how young she is,
look at their baby!

He's her husband.

Most deaths were at night...

from the cold.

Dying here was really
a continuation of life.

The people were used to dying.

A husband is washing
his wife to bury her.

In his mountain clothes,
his goat skin...

A very young woman.

In the Coptic ritual...

the body has to be clean
when it comes before God.

You have to
wash it all over...

even if there's
very little water.

With each dying person
a piece of everyone else dies.

A father is preparing
his son for burial...

saying his last goodbye.

Family members
usually prepare their dead.

Knowing that a government...

is withholding food
from its people...

as was the actual case here...

in this camp in
Northern Ethiopia...

That was brutal
political dishonesty.

I returned to Ethiopia
at the end of 1984.

The guerillas
knew the government

was about to drive
these people out...

so they started evacuating
people towards Sudan.

They left from
all over Tigray.

We were attacked
by two helicopters.

Very fast combat helicopters.

They shot at the people
with machine-guns.

I took a photo and then I ran.

There were many
pregnant women...

hoping that when they'd arrive
they'd find food and water.

That they'd finally reach
the promised land.

I must have spent...

at least two months there.

And when I arrived in Sudan...

I did a lot of work on the
arrival of these people.

This man had
come from Ethiopia.

His camel had reached its limit.
Maybe it was dead.

But the man was
holding on and on...

Yet when he reached the
doctors, his child was dead.

After such a long march.

Doctors Without Borders
had to give up this camp.

Water is essential
in these camps...

and it had
become a huge problem.

So they had to move the camp
as fast as possible.

People were
crammed into UN trucks...

to take them to a new camp...

on a beautiful and
fertile piece of land...

on the banks of the Blue Nile.

I rode on this truck for at
least 300 or 400 kilometers.

These are two friends...

pretending it was
a normal Sunday afternoon...

sitting under a tree,
telling stories...

There's lots of
water by the Nile,

but that's where
the people died...


There was nothing to eat.

They were in the final stages
of their distress.

They'd forgotten to bring
food, or hadn't been able to.

The food distribution
had gone wrong.

These people had
held on so long...

but when they got there,
they could no more.

I went to Mali.

There was a severe
drought there too.

The skin becomes
like tree bark...

like a tree marked
by the desert wind...

by sandstorm
after sandstorm...

There were only
women and kids.

The men had left
to work in Libya...

or headed for the Ivory Coast,
looking for work...

promising to return
and bring food for the family.

But very few came back.

They were all saved...

because Doctors Without
Borders did great work.

They brought assistance
to this whole area.

This is a friend,
Luc, a Belgian doctor.

Measuring a kid, weighing him.

In two or three weeks these
children completely recover.

They're marked by it,
all their lives...

having experienced such
deprivation while growing up.

This boy was alone...

with his instrument, his
little guitar, in his hand...

With his rag of a shirt
still hanging on him.

No trousers, nothing.

Look at his determination,
his posture.

He knew where he was going.

Looking for other groups,
looking for a village...

with his dog...

A boy of eight or nine.

WENDERS: Sebastião became very attached to
the people in the Sahel region of Africa.

He returned over
and over again.

His photographs,
the book and the exhibition

that Lélia edited
and put together

called worldwide
attention to these droughts

and their threats
to millions of lives,

and opened questions.

What had caused these
conditions in the first place?

Sebastião turned to a subject

that would take
another six years

and countless journeys to almost
30 countries all over the globe.

Workers, the third huge volume
of photographs

he and Lélia
conceived together.


I wanted to pay homage...

to all the men and women
who built the world around us.

An archeology of
the industrial era.

WENDERS: Sebastião and Lélia
did extended research

and planned
Workers meticulously.

And then he traveled again, to
the four corners of the world,

photographing steelworkers
in the Soviet Union,

living with ship
breakers in Bangladesh,

going to sea with fishermen
in Galicia and Sicily,

showing the mechanical
production of cars in Calcutta,

observing tea
pickers in Rwanda,

a country he had first
gone as an economist.

He came on a different mission
now, with a changed view,

but he was still the same man,

driven by the same empathy
for the human condition.

Each of these
chapters of Workers

meant that Sebastião
would immerse completely

in that particular
field of manual labor.

Like the weeks he spent with the
gold diggers at the Serra-Pelada.

In 1991, at the end
of the first Gulf War,

if you remember,
the Iraqi troops withdrew

and Saddam Hussein set fire
to hundreds of oil wells.

An army of firefighters
from all over the world

moved to
the burning oil fields.

Sebastião just
had to go as well,

driven by a curiosity
for this explosive profession.



As soon as I saw
the first images on TV...

I felt the urge to
cover this story.

It was like working
in a huge theater.

500 oil wells burning.

A giant stage,
the size of the planet.

No restrictions,
you could go where you wanted.

There was a discharge
of heavy oil smoke.

The smoke was so dense,
the sun couldn't cut through.

There were days when it was
dark for 24 hours straight.

Once a fire was put out...

the earth was still very hot.

They had to pour a huge amount
of water on to cool it.

If not,
the oil would just re-ignite.

But despite that...

there'd sometimes be an
explosion, like a cannon shot.

The noise was so deafening...

it was like working
next to a jet engine.

Now I'm a little deaf.

That's where my
deafness began.

These are Canadians...

a unit of firefighters
from Calgary.

They'd brought
a beautiful red truck.

And it was their rule,
once they'd put out a fire...

to wash the truck
every evening.

And in the morning
it'd be covered in oil again.

A hellish job!

I put off my departure
at least 2 or 3 times...

until I really had to leave.

But it broke my heart...

to abandon this
vast spectacle.

I roamed around.

And very close to the end...

we were driving by
this long wall...

- That day I was with a journalist
from The New York Times -

Since it was a no-man's-land,
ruined by war...

we broke down the gate.

And inside...

we found a sort of...


that had turned into hell.

It was a garden belonging to
the Kuwaiti royal family...


with horses, thoroughbreds...

that had gone completely,
desperately insane.

Animals are the first
to flee from a catastrophe...

when they're free to leave.

But here, they weren't.

There were birds there too,
it was an oasis...

very well irrigated.

Birds who couldn't fly anymore as
their feathers were stuck together.

The Kuwaitis fled when they felt
the disaster approaching...

leaving behind
the imprisoned animals...

and the Bedouins whom they didn't
really consider as humans.

WENDERS: Workers finally united the
economist in Sebastião Salgado

and the artist he had become.

The pictures appeared in
most of the great magazines,

the exhibition
traveled all over the world,

and the book came
out in many languages.

But Sebastião and
Lélia wouldn't rest.

They immediately
started to work

on another major
phase of his photography.

They realized that one of the
burning subjects of our times

was the displacement
of entire populations

by wars, famines or the rules
of the global marketplace.

So while Europe was starting
to close its borders,

Sebastião was trying to shine a
light on the fates of the outcast.

Again, he and Lélia did all the
research and planning together,

and again,
she was the driving force

behind this new chapter in their
lives, which they called “Exodus"

It created
a worldwide awareness

for the fate of
all these refugees

in India, Vietnam,
the Philippines,

South America, Palestine, Iraq
and many other places.

But Sebastião, over and over,

returned to the continent

that had caught his imagination
for so long already,

to Africa.


I was doing my project on
the displacement of peoples...

in 1994...

when the president
of Rwanda...

his plane was shot down.

That started a huge exodus
towards Tanzania...

due to the brutal repression
of the Tutsis in Rwanda.

I was one of
the first to arrive there.

The catastrophe
was everywhere.

People were
fleeing to Burundi...

to the Congo, to Uganda...

They were leaving
in all directions.

The roads were
already full of people...

People sleeping
by the roadsides...

carrying all their
belongings on bicycles...

fleeing with
whatever they could take.

We headed in
the opposite direction...

towards the border.

There was no border
control whatsoever.

I entered Rwanda,
and it was terrifying.

The number of dead bodies
I saw on that road...

Here, a grenade
had exploded.

Those not killed by the grenade
were killed with machetes.

There, I began to sense...

the sheer scale of the
disaster I was witnessing.

A genocide was
in progress here.

It was 150 kilometers
by road to Kigali...

150 kilometers
of dead bodies...

I turned back, because my
story was about people.

I was doing my book on refugees,
I was working on Exodus-

I started going
into the camps...

and I began to see...

the sheer number of people
leaving Rwanda.

Hell was taking
the place of paradise.

It was frightening...

to see, on such
a beautiful savanna...

this mega city springing up.

Within days, there were
almost a million people here.

Among all this distress, one
thing that really moved me...

was the relationship between
this mother and her child...

and the child's
trust in its mother.


and brutality...

are not the monopoly...

of remote countries.

It happened right here, in
Europe, in ex-Yugoslavia.

It was very shocking.

A bus coming from Krajina
through Croatia...

a person was killed
through that hole.

The Croats killed lots of people
too as they left Krajina.

Violence was everywhere.

But what disgusted me most...

was to see how
contagious hatred was.

These people too saw violence.

Entire families...

the whole Serbian population
of Krajina was expelled.

And overnight,
they found themselves...

evicted from their homes,
looking for a place to go...

having their next-door
neighbors shooting at them.

These were refugee camps
not far from Tuzla...

in central Bosnia.

These families had left
the enclave of Zepa...

where Serbs murdered
thousands of young men.

We were there at
the very moment

when the families
were arriving...

in a state of great distress.

There were only women,
old men...

and children.

The younger men had all
been held and murdered.

It was strange that this
was happening in Europe...

at the end of
the 20th century.

From the cars alone...

you can see these people
had a standard of living...

a European
standard of living...

a European
intellectual level...

a European infrastructure.

And they lost everything.

Hundreds of kilometers,
crowded with people and cars.

We are a ferocious animal.

We humans are
terrible animals.

Here in Europe, in Africa, in
South America, everywhere...

we are extremely violent.

Our history is
a history of wars.

It's an endless story...

a story of repression...

a tale of madness.

The situation in
Rwanda kept changing.

The Hutu army, which was ruling
the country, was defeated...

and retreated into the Congo,
to the Goma region.

First, the Tutsis had fled
the Hutu barbarity.

And then, the Hutus...

fled the Tutsi occupation.

So everybody fled, in turn.

In just a few days...

in July 1994...

the Goma region...

received more than
2 million people.

It was a disaster
in the making.

Diseases such as cholera
started spreading...

and the people
began to die like ants.

12 to 15 thousand
died every day.

I was taking photos
of these piles of corpses...

when I saw the dad
coming with his kid.

He threw him on the pile...

and left with his friend, chatting
as if nothing had happened.

They couldn't
bury all the people.

So a bulldozer came
from the French army...

which took dozens at a time...

laid them out on the ground...

and covered them with earth.

Everybody should
see these images...

to see how
terrible our species is.

Orphan kids,
who were on the road.

Three children...

the two with the livelier eyes
would live.

The one whose eyes
are clouded was dying.

When I got out of there,
I was ill...

my body was very sick.

I didn't have any
infectious diseases...

but my soul was sick.

I went back to Rwanda
one year after the disaster...

to cover the return of the Hutus
who'd been in the Congo...

and had nowhere to go.

The United Nations started
forcing them to return.

You felt the whole planet was
covered with refugee tents.

After working there...

the Tutsi authorities
suggested that I should see...

a few of the places where
the massacres had occurred.

People had fled to a church,
believing they'd be safe.

All murdered!

Here, it happened in a school.

You can still see what was written
on the blackboard that day.

It was terrifying.

The people who had left Rwanda,
about 2 million refugees...

some went back to Rwanda...

but others were
afraid of the repression.

So a column of about 250,000
people left the city of Goma...

and entered the Congo forest.

We lost track of them.

Everybody knew there were
250,000 lost people.

Nobody knew where they were.

Six months later...

they started appearing near Kisangani,
in the center of the Congo.

They'd lived in
the forest for 6 months.

So the UN took me there.

There was a train
and I took it.

It was dropping off food,
then heading back.

But I said, "I'm staying."


I spent three days with these
people, who kept arriving.

Columns and columns of them...

To think that when they left
they were 250,000...

and only 40,000 made it here!

210,000 people were missing!

Yet at the same time,
life went on.

A guy cutting hair...

Or even this Congolese guy...

with his calculator...

who was trying to collect...

the few dollars he was
sure people had on them...

which he was trying to exchange,
in the middle of nowhere!

In the middle of
a remote forest.

At that time...

the pro-Tutsi guerilla movement
that had seized Kisangani...

began to expel
these people again...

to send them back.

Six months to get there,
and now back to Rwanda!

They began to
kill some of them.

There, I met people who just
couldn't take any more.

Who started to be delirious...

losing their minds...

They were driven mad.

In fact, those people
who were expelled...

were never heard from again.

I believe they
were all murdered.

That was my last trip, that
disastrous time in Rwanda.

When I left there...

l no longer
believed in anything,

in any salvation
for the human species.

You couldn't
survive such a thing.

We didn't deserve to live.

No one deserved to live.

How many times did I lay my cameras
down to cry over what I'd seen?

WENDERS: Sebastião had seen
into the heart of darkness

and deeply questioned his work
as a social photographer

and a witness of
the human condition.

What was left for
him to do after Rwanda?

JULIANO: In that time, my
grandfather's health had worsened.

My parents had to return to
Brazil to take care of the farm.

It was nothing
but a wasteland.

They didn't know
what to do with it.

The birds, the alligators and
the majestic forests were gone.

There was nothing left from
Sebastião's childhood memories.

And then Lélia came up
with a surprising idea.

"Why don't we replant the
forest that was here before?"

WENDERS: The forest
that was there before

and had once spread
over all these hills

was Mata Atlantica,
the Atlantic rain forest.

Nobody had ever
tried to replant it,

let alone on
a scale of 600 hectares.

Lélia's suggestion was
probably driven by the impulse

of lifting up
the family spirit.

Yet, they actually
started doing it.

And in the following 10 years,

nothing else than a full-blown
miracle took place on this land

that has since then become
the lnstituto Terra.



I remember, during
the first plantation...

I sometimes dreamt
that everything had died.

Because the soil was so
bad here, so damaged...

that I asked myself,
"Will it ever grow?"

The Mata Atlantica
has 400 different species.

Of course, we don't
have all 400 of them...

but each time, we plant...

it's 100 species...

150 species...

After the first
planting we lost 60%.

After the second, we lost 40%.

We had no book to
teach us how to replant...

a Mata Atlantica.



I love coming up here...

to see all these
trees together...

this mass of green forest.

You can imagine what it took
to plant all these trees.

When I was a kid...

we had a little waterfall.

All year long,
it cascaded down there.

My sisters and I would walk here
to the waterfall, for picnics.

There was still
an enormous forest.


the forest was cut down
and the water vanished.

Our forest is still young,
it needs a lot of water.

But in 10,15 years, when this
growth has stabilized...

I'm sure we'll have a beautiful
waterfall once more.





You can see...

lots of little paths...

hundreds of them...

That's where the cows walk.

Each cow's hoof,
as it touches the ground...

presses down with 200 or 250
kilos on one small space.

The soil flattens,
it dries out...

and nothing
grows on it anymore.

It's interesting to
see the difference...

between what
the lnstituto Terra

was before,
meadows like that...

and what it is today, a
completely rebuilt eco-system...

with our 2 million trees.


Here you can see...

a cicada that
sang until it died.

I'm sure its body wasn't
enclosed in the tree like that.

The termites have built
around it, assimilated it.

It'll be buried in there.

You look at a tree
and you think only

of its verticality,
its beauty...

But everything depends on the
tree, our water, our oxygen...

It's everyone's home.

Ants, small insects,

they're all in there.

It feels good to hold
a tree you've helped to plant.

It's already deeply rooted,
firm in the ground...

Thirty years from now,
it'll be like this.

It's still quite young,
still growing.

These are even
younger ones, tiny ones.

Maybe they
sprouted last night...

like Alice
entering Wonderland.

It's incredible that they'll become
trees 40 meters or so high...

and will live for
400 or 500 years.

What power!

To think that these
three-month-old trees...

will reach their
apex in 400 years.

Perhaps from there we
could try to grasp...

the concept of eternity.

Maybe eternity is measurable.


When I first said,
"Let's plant a forest"...

I thought that from a seed I'd grow
a small tree, a small plant...

Well, this isn't one small
plant, it's a million!

And it's not only for here.

It's for the whole region,
and further each time.

What's wonderful
is that an idea...

can develop and grow.

And it's no longer one person's
idea, it's everyone's.

Our technology can be
reproduced almost everywhere.

Of course, species differ.

But the know-how
is the same...

for every tropical forest.


WENDERS: The land healed
Sebastião's despair.

The joy of seeing
the trees grow again,

the springs
coming back to life,

it all jump-started Sebastião's
calling as a photographer once more.

Only that he and Lélia knew
they couldn't possibly

return to what
they'd done before.


We came to the conclusion...

that I could do a new project
related to the environment.

Of course, I first thought...

of denouncing the destruction
of the forests...

or the pollution
of the oceans...


Then we thought we'd do a
different sort of project.

We'd pay
a tribute to the planet.

And we were very
surprised to discover...

that almost half of
the planet is still...

like at the time of creation.

Many of my friends said, "No,you
shouldn't take that route.

"It's risky. You're known
as a social photographer...

"And you're venturing
into the field...

"of landscape,
or wildlife photography."

I said,
"I don't care, let's do it!

"I have to learn
to photograph that as well."

And I started my first story.

I wanted it to be Galapagos.

I wanted to understand
what Darwin had understood.

The same species...

in very
different ecosystems...

will evolve very differently.

Looking at this detail
of an iguana's paw...

I can't help thinking...

of the hand of
a medieval knight...

with those metallic
scales to protect him.

Looking at the paw's
bone structure...

I see that the iguana
is also my cousin.

That we came
from the same cell.

When you're in front
of a creature of that age...

you're facing
a real authority...

with all those wrinkles,
all that knowledge.

When Darwin came here...

that turtle would already
have been an adult.

Maybe it saw Darwin.
Who knows?

One day I was very tired...

as we'd been walking a long
time across some lava fields.

I lay down on
the beach to rest...

and I felt something
touch my leg.

I looked and it
was a sea lion.

Another one came up beside us.

We were three sea lions!

They didn't see man as a
predator, nor as a threat.

That was my first
nature report...

the first time
I photographed other animals.

For eight years,
I took my time observing.

The main thing
was to understand...

that I'm as much a part of
nature as a turtle, or a tree...

or a pebble.



Amazing how he looks at us...


There's depth in there!

He was coming closer,
I was photographing him...

his hand in his mouth...

He was seeing himself in a
mirror for the first time...

the front of the lens.

He was taking his finger out,
putting it back...

realizing that it was him.

He was becoming
aware of his image,

and I sensed
total identification.

They are families like ours...

with grandfathers, fathers,

They respect each other.

And when you visit them,
you have to be polite...

to stand in a certain way...

you have to
respect their territory.

And then you're welcomed.

I also befriended a whale.

These are whales...

in Argentina.

An adult like this is 35 meters
long, weighs about 40 tons.

She came so
close to the boat...

I could touch her.

And it was incredible.
Such sensitive skin!

As I was caressing her...

I could see her tail, 35
meters away, trembling.

Incredible sensitivity.

We had a small boat,
just 7 meters long.

She knew she
could have sunk us.

But she never once
hit the boat. Not once!

As we left,
she began tapping her tail...

That's like another planet!

It's quite incredible.

Let me see if I have another
photo of the Nenets.

See, everything
a Nenet owns is here.

That's their house.

I'd been planning this work
on the Nenets for a long time.

About eighteen people,
with six thousand reindeer...

constantly migrating.

This must be about
seven in the evening.

At about eight in the evening
they'd light a fire...

and cook the only
hot meal of the day.

After the meal, we'd chat a bit.
Everybody talked.

They'd put out the fire.

While the fire was burning, it was
15 to 20 degrees, quite nice.

Two hours later,
it was minus thirty.

They're the real
cowboys of Siberia.

They always
have their lasso...

made of reindeer skin,
around their necks.

They have boots made
of silver-fox skin.

They sleep with them.
Those boots last a lifetime.

The Ob is a very
special river...

a huge Siberian river.

At this spot, it's about
47 kilometers wide.

Once past the Ob,
you're in the Arctic Circle.

There's no horizon,
there's nothing.

You are on a white plate,
as wide as the universe.

WENDERS: Genesis
took Sebastião

around the globe once more
for almost a decade.

It was gonna show us nature,
animals, places and peoples

that were like at
the beginning of time.

A much more optimistic view

of the same planet than Sebastião
had witnessed for so long

as damaged and destroyed.

Genesis was gonna be their opus
magnus, a love letter to the planet-



There were
accounts of the Zo'é

in 16th-century
Jesuit writings.

They went to Amazonia and
spoke about these people...

who wore a tube of wood
inside their lower lip.

These Indians were
never seen again.

It was believed to
be a fairytale...

or an invention
by the Jesuits...

until the end of
the eighties...

when these Indians
were contacted again.






These Indians really
live in a paradise.

It's the only
place I've found...

where the women
have 3 or 4 or 5 husbands...

and the husbands
have as many wives.

Each woman has
a hunting husband...

a fishing husband...

a farming husband...

one who's a handyman,
who helps around the house...

The women have enormous power.

They have an influence over
some of the men...

that's quite considerable.





One thing I always found interesting
about all these peoples...

was their perfect consciousness
of their appearance.

When I was about
to take a photo...

they'd know I
was going to make

a representation
of their image.

At first they'd be eager,
then, they'd lose interest.

It wasn't their world.

On the other hand, they were
very interested in my knife.

My friend Ypo made me swear
to give him my knife.

But the National
Indian Foundation...

made me promise not to give any
of my objects to the Indians...

to protect their purity.

So he said,
"Let's make a deal.

"They day you leave...

"throw your knife
out of the airplane window.

"I'll follow
the plane's path...

"and I'll find your knife!"


These plants are very old.

They've been here
for 40 or 50 years.

They're wonderful plants...


A plant of the shade, from
the heart of our forest...

from the highest parts.

It reminds me of
my mother's hair.

My mother was very beautiful.

These were her plants,
and after she died...

Dad took care of them
until he passed away.

Then, we brought them here.


Look, it's raining.

Beautiful rain.


This land is
extremely important to us.

We're completing
a cycle with this land.

Within this cycle,
we have spent our lives.

The lives of my parents...

the lives of my sisters...

a large part of my life...

And today, we're living
our lives here again...

Lélia and I.

This land continues
to tell our story.

It formed my childhood
and accompanies my old age.

And when I die...

this forest will once again be
like when I was born.

And the cycle
will be complete.

It's the story of my life.

Man, creator of images that
tell us a thousand stories...

of life on this planet has shared
with us this great project,

a dream: the destruction of nature
is not irreversible

More than one thousand springs rise again
on the soil of Instituto Terra.

Two and a half million trees have
been planted already.

Wild animals have returned,
including jaguars.

This territory is no longer
the property of Salgado only:

it is now a National Park that
belongs to all.

This demonstrates that it is
possible to recover land...

anywhere else when their original
forests that have been mistreated.