The Territory is one of the most notable films of the year, and that’s quite impressive considering the documentary is Alex Pritz‘s first feature. With three shorts under his belt, Pritz went big to share the story of the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau, an indigenous group struggling to retain a small area of the Amazon rainforest that they call home. Pritz’s success with his debut (including jury and audience awards at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival) owes a lot to his collaboration with the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau and Brazilian activist Neidinha Bandeira as well as renowned Hollywood filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan, The Fountain).
Usually, when you see a name like Darren Aronofsky’s on a documentary like The Territory, it’s an executive producer credit. Meaning, that recognizable figure has essentially sponsored the film, often coming aboard in the late stages of production but not having a direct hand in its ongoing development. Aronofsky is one of the true producers of The Territory, participating in the making of the documentary since Pritz’s early days of shooting, in 2019. Aronofsky (who previously produced Lance Oppenheimer’s delightful first documentary feature, Some Kind of Heaven) provided creative input and — curiously given his lack of experience with the genre — apparently inspired its Western-tinged structure and themes.
Ahead of the theatrical release of The Territory, I interviewed Pritz in depth about the documentary and some of the difficult choices he had to make in its construction. We also talked about the working relationships he had with his subjects, who also had a lot of creative influence on the film’s making, as well as with Aronofsky, who provided a lot more than just his name. Below is Pritz’s answer to my inquiry into how Aronofsky and his production company became involved with The Territory, a debut feature from an unknown documentarian, and what that has meant for the film.
Alex Pritz On Darren Aronofsky’s Involvement In The Territory
I come from a working-class family; both my parents are public school teachers. I don’t have any connections in the film world to speak of. So, my first feature, I just took every meeting I could. I did IFP Week. I did Sheffield MeetMarket, I did Camden Points North 1:1 Meetings. Any one of those speed dating sessions that you can sign up for, I was there. I was ready. At IFP Week (now Gotham Week) in 2019, I met a couple of people who work underneath Darren at his company Protozoa Pictures, and they responded really quickly to the footage that I had, the way that I was trying to tell a story. First-person. Real-time. Present-tense filmmaking was something that they were interested in.
They invited me to their office in Chinatown; I brought footage, met Darren, showed him raw dailies of what I’d been shooting that summer, and then talked through the story. A lot of the early ideas about how to structure the film and thinking of it as a genre documentary, as a Western — we lost some of that in the edit, but Darren came up with this really strong idea that we could take some of the aesthetics of the Western genre and play with these problematic tropes of cowboys and indigenous people, but flip them on their head wherever we could try, to subvert them.
In our story, the politically savvy, media-oriented, technologically sophisticated people are the indigenous community, and the naive people are the farmers, who really don’t have any understanding of the historical context of their actions; the environmental consequences of what they’re doing are outside of their purview. They’re quite myopic in the way that they think about this. And Darren was very influential for me in thinking about that stuff. As well as how to structure the financing of the film, to hold on to all rights through the entire process. I had final cut all the way through, and through the sale to NatGeo, that was just with me. If I hadn’t had Darren on early, I don’t know that I would have had the cojones to stand up for that stuff.
When he came on in 2019, he was the only producer on our film who’d ever made a feature film before. Which is crazy. It was me, my best friend Will, who is a producer on the film, and Gabriel Uchida, our Brazilian producer, and none of us had ever made a film before. Darren stood behind it, and I think that opened the door to get a bunch of new grant applications and carry on with production in a way that totally wouldn’t have been possible without him.
Alex Pritz’s The Territory is now playing in theaters nationwide, courtesy of National Geographic Documentary Films.