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Secrets of the Tribe


The field of anthropology goes under the magnifying glass in this fiery investigation of the seminal research on Yanomami Indians. In the 1960s and ’70s, a steady stream of anthropologists filed into the Amazon Basin to observe this "virgin" society untouched by modern life. Thirty years later, the events surrounding this infiltration have become a scandalous tale of academic ethics and infighting.

The origins of violence and war and the accuracy of data gathering are hotly debated among the scholarly clan. Soon these disputes take on Heart of Darkness overtones as they descend into shadowy allegations of sexual and medical violation.

Director José Padilha brilliantly employs two provocative strategies to raise unsettling questions about the boundaries of cultural encounters. He allows professors accused of heinous activities to defend themselves, and the Yanomami to represent their side of the story. As this riveting excavation deconstructs anthropology’s colonial legacy, it challenges our society’s myths of objectivity and the very notion of “the other.”


Learn more about SECRETS OF THE TRIBE:

The Filmmakers

José Padilha Director

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. José Padilha earned B.A. in Business Economics at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica of Rio de Janeiro.

Padilha wrote, produced, and directed ELITE SQUAD, winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 2008. In 2007, he also produced and directed the short documentary CHARCOAL For Live Earth, Al Gore's NGO.

In 2004, Padilha produced the awarded documentary ESTAMIRA, directed by Marcos Prado, his associate at Zazen Produções. ESTAMIRA won Best Documentary at the Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Karlovy Vary and Havana Film Festivals and received the Grand Prix in FID Marseille and the Human Rights International Film Festival of Nuremberg, as well as the FIPRESCI award at the International Film Festival of Vienna in 2005.

BUS 174 was his Padilha's theatrical direction. For this, he was honoured by the Director's Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement. The film won both the Publics Choice for Best Documentary and the FIPRESCI Critics Award for Best Brazilian Feature Film at the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival 2002. BUS 174 had its US premiere at Sundance in 2002 and its European premiere at Rotterdam Film Festival in 2003, where it won a special mention by the Amnesty International Jury. In the US, the film won the Best Documentary Grand Jury award at the Miami International Film Festival (2003), the Most Innovative Film award at the Chicago Documentary Film Festival (2003) and the Charles E. Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival (2003).BUS 174 also won the Best International Premiere at the One World Media Awards in London, the Interfilm Academy award at the Munchen Film Festival (2003), the prize for Best Documentary at Mediawave in Hungary, and Best Documentary at the Copenhagen Film Festival. The film was also awarded Best Documentary at the Nuevo Cinema Latino Americano Festival in Havana and Emmy Awards (2005).

In addition to SECRETS OF THE TRIBE, Padilha is at work on HUNGER, another feature-length documentary currently in post-production.

Festivals & Awards

Sundance Film Festival


Official Selection

Hot Docs International Film Festival


Official Selection

Silverdocs Film Festival


Official Selection



"Director José Padilha starts his film with a Yanomami Indian who has had his fill of white people, anthropologists, and cameras. "You should be ignorant of us, but here you are taking my picture yet again," he snarls at the director. And this perfectly encapsulates an unparalleled scandal. The evil that has been done is rooted in the 1960s and 1970s, when a couple of anthropologists in the Venezuelan Amazon region discovered the Yanomami Indians. Their way of life had not changed for thousands of years. For anthropologists, this discovery was of immeasurable value, and at the time it gained a prominent position in scientific literature. But 40 years later, little remains of that triumph. What went wrong? Everything. And Padilha has the witnesses, victims, evidence, and images to prove it. Using the same approach as in his successful Tropa de Elite films, Padilha coolly reconstructs how the academic fairy tale deteriorated into unethical, vulgar mudslinging, with anthropologists accusing one another of genocide. But Padilha lets everyone have their say, including the ambitious scientists who have since been discredited." 

+ Festival Website

Sheffield Doc/Fest


"In a very short space of time, the Amazonian Yanomami Indians went from being one of the last untouched tribes to amongst the most documented in history, depositing them squarely in the midst of the craziness of the twentieth century world from which they had so long been isolated. Chief amongst their visitors in the 60’s and 70’s were a string of anthropologists, bearing welcome gifts such as machetes and knives, and less welcome ones, such as diseases, to which they were all too vulnerable. Director José Padilha (Bus 174) turns his considerable talents to the science of anthropology, and by allowing feuding sects of anthropologists to air their beefs on camera, and hearing from the scarred Yanomami themselves, casts doubt on the entire enterprise. Does one man making notes about a tribe, with whom he is living and greatly influencing, really constitute scientific data? Whilst building a damning case against the field itself, Secrets of the Tribe brings to light a catalogue of increasingly horrifying crimes and misdemeanours. A Sundance sell out, Secrets is gripping stuff."

+ Festival Website


Anthropologists may travel to remote lands studying strange, complicated communities, but judging from SECRETS OF THE TRIBE, some of them could find just as much material by staying at school and investigating each other…Fascinating and full of juicy ethical squabbles.”

-The Hollywood Reporter

In the world documentary section, one of the best is the new work by Brazil's José Padilha, who did the excellent BUS 174. His complex, shattering SECRETS OF THE TRIBE examines the effects that waves of cultural anthropologists have had on the Yanomami Indians of the Amazon basin, a society that had been totally isolated from nominal civilization.”

-Kenneth Turan, LA Times

Padilha’s expertly constructed film — which keeps shifting, deftly and almost dizzyingly, among irreconcilable perspectives — turns inconclusiveness into a strength.”

-Sundance Channel