El Perro del Hortelano



Cooperative Filmmaking in the Amazon

In 2009/10 The Selva Rica Project embarked on a full length narrative feature film.  Rooted in a series of writing and producing workshops with our volunteer artists and youth participants, The Selva Rica Project constructed a film about the conflicts which emerge when development meets environmentalism and cultural heritage.  Our group of artist created a story around these central themes in hopes of answering some tough questions about our role in shaping the face of the natural world.  What emerged was the first ever feature film about oil extraction on native lands in Peru’s Amazon. 

“El Perro del Hortelano” (The Dog in The Manger) 2010, has gone on to win 5 awards from film festivals around the world and has been translated into French, Italian, Arabic, and Mandarin.  The film has become a seminal work of activism for indigenous groups in Peru fighting to protect their land from harmful resource extraction schemes.  The film has been used in mediation amongst interest groups in Bolivia as a means of opening up a dialogue sensitive to stakeholder needs.  It has been screened on national and regional TV in Peru, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Texas (home of Hunt Oil featured in the film).  El Perro del Hortelano has been screened in over 20 countries around the world inspiring social action and cross cultural dialogues on the importance of environmental conservation, indigenous rights, and progressive media.

The “El Perro del Hortelano” production took place near Manu National Park.  Just an 8 hour drive from Cusco, Manu is a UNESCO world heritage site, and one of the most bio-diverse regions of the world.  It is also home to thousands of Machiguenga and Harakmbut native people. As we explored local and global environmental concerns, participants from all over the world engaged in an educational experience; cultivating a greater understanding of how each community’s struggle is linked to larger global experience.


El Perro del Hortelano follows the story of a young Bora-Huitoto painter, Brus, as he discovers a unique path to helping his community resist the encroaching oil company that threatens the future of their ancestral lands in the Madre de Dios rainforest of Peru. Brus seeks support at a local NGO and finds himself entangled in the subversive work of an American researcher, Angie.  Ultimately, Brus navigates his way through the surreal world of “development” pioneers, well-to-do volunteers, and corporate strategists discovering his own way of bringing strength to his community.

How We Made “El Perro del Hortelano”

We organized our production so that everyone did a little of everything, ensuring our production was also a learning experience for everyone involved.  Furthermore, we wrote our script after filming our scenes, much like a documentary.  First we composed a series of treatments to help guide us through important themes allowing us to experiment with the narrative’s structure. Then we determined as a group, which treatments, or parts of the treatment, we wanted to work with.

Breaking into teams everyday, improvising under the direction of an experienced acting coach as our team of non-actors worked together to come up with scenes they felt articulated their sentiments about the given topic.  We would then shoot and edit the scenes together setting up the scope of work for the following day.

Selva Rica was responsible for organizing and supporting the onscreen and offscreen experience so that our professional and non-professional artists could collaborate with true creative and intellectual freedom.

Rooted in the principals of dialogical education, theater for development, and human rights media, our methodology allowed for greater creative participation from everyone involved than would normal come from a tradition film production.  Most importantly, this method gave us room to explore challenging social and environmental topics with indigenous communities and create a film the expressed the sentiments of those communities.


(The Dog In The Manger)


98 mins

Spanish / English (subtitled)