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Synopsis

What happens when western anthropologists descend on the Amazon and make one of the last unacculturated tribes in existence, the Yanomami, the most exhaustively filmed and studied tribe on the planet?  Despite their "do no harm" creed and scientific aims, the small army of anthropologists that has studied the Yanomami since the 1960s has wreaked havoc among the tribe - and sparked a war within the anthropology community itself.

SECRETS OF THE TRIBE shines a light on the field of anthropology through the case of the Yanomami, an indigenous people who have lived in virtual seclusion for centuries on the Brazil-Venezuela border.  Since the 1960s, the Yamomami have been studied by anthropologists as an example of one of the last remaining "pristine" cultures - untouched by western influences.  What emerges in the film is a behind-the-scenes look at a scientific community torn apart by heated theoretical debates, petty infighting, and accusations of ethical lapses, exploitation and sexual abuse.  Directed by award-winning Brazilian filmmaker José Padilha (HBO's Bus 174), the film weaves together interviews with academics and testimonies from the Yamomami, along with excerpts from ethnographic films from the 1960s and 1970s.  In the end, the tribe under scrutiny is not so much the Yanomami as the anthropologists.  While the film leaves the audience to draw their own conclusions,  its testimonies by both the Yanomami and the anthropologists are surprising and occasionally astounding.

The film blends interviews with Ph.D.s, excerpts from 1960s and 1970s documentaries and never-before-seen footage from the Smithsonian.  The controversy over the anthropologists' impact on the tribe - which had lived for centuries in virtual seclusion on the Brazil-Venezuela border - touches some of the field's brightest stars;  Yanomami authority Napoleon Chagnon, whose book "Yanomamo:  The Fierce People" is the bestselling anthropology text of all time, Kenneth Good and prominent French anthropologist Jacques Lizot.

Explains director Padilha, "We've all seen documentaries about the Yanomami, but it seemed important to me to turn the lens on the people studying them.  This is the story of the unhealthy meeting of two cultures - an acute study of the clashing of these two tribes and the wars between them.  It raises questions about the ethics of anthropology, uncovers secrets that were buried and shows how many of the academics in question have tied themselves in knots trying unsuccessfully to deal with the controversies they helped to create."

Brazilian filmmaker José Padilha is best known for the multiple award-winning HBO documentary "Bus 174" (2002), about a 2000 hijacking in Rio de Janeiro.  His other credits include "Elite Squad," "Garapa" and the upcoming films "Elite Squad 2," "The Sigma Protocol," "Marching Powder," "Agent in Place" and "Rio, Eu Te Amo."

SECRETS OF THE TRIBE was directed by José Padilha; producers, Mike Chamberlain, Carol Nahra and Marcus Prado; composer, João Nabuco; cinematography by Lula Carvalho and Reinaldo Zangrandi; editors, Felipe Lacerda and José Padilha.  For HBO:  supervising producer, Sara Bernstein; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.

Screts of the Tribe Members pointing

Secrets of the Tribe