The story of four children lost in the Colombian jungle is on its way to becoming a Hollywood blockbuster. Producers and agents from all over the world are currently in Bogotá, trying to close a deal with the family that will allow them to film the story of how the four siblings survived in the Amazon jungle for 40 days, all by themselves. “It has become a race to find the highest bidder. Everyone is in a hurry to keep the rights and be able to sell the story exclusively to the platforms,” said a source familiar with the negotiations.
The producers want, above all, the testimony of 13-year-old Lesly, the oldest of the four, who managed to keep alive her three siblings, ages one, five and nine, in a place full of wild animals and poisonous plants. Their ordeal has all the ingredients of a great story. The major studios want to bring it to the big screen and are scrambling to get the rights. The grandparents were offered a substantial contract from a U.S. company, but they rejected it when they saw that it included a clause that granted the company rights in perpetuity.
As many as 13 companies, including Warner Bros., have submitted their proposals in writing. The lawyers representing the children’s grandparents have asked the producers to make offers that are compatible with indigenous jurisdiction and include benefits for the community where the minors are from, Araracuara, a village in the Amazon. If possible, they also want the director to be someone of Colombian nationality. Obtaining the rights, as this newspaper has learned, will include a visit to the territory with the protagonists of this story and an immersion in the Uitoto culture, the indigenous ethnic group to which they belong.
Some have jumped the gun and have already started to tell the story in record time. A TMZ investigative team has begun airing on Hulu and Fox News the first season of a series titled The Miracle Children of the Amazon. The documentary is based on testimonies from the family, members of the military and indigenous people who participated in the rescue operation. According to industry sources, Netflix and NatGeo already have production teams on the ground. This has pushed back small and midsize production companies that were preparing a pitch for streaming platforms.
President Gustavo Petro has also been involved in this mad race. On June 22, he announced on Twitter that two-time Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Simon Chinn will lead the production of the documentary Operation Hope, in reference to the name by which the mission was known. Petro shared a photo of himself with Chinn and public television assistant manager Hollman Morris, who will co-produce the documentary. The National Organization of the Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon, Opiac, did not appreciate Petro’s haste at all. “We express our rejection of the announcement of this documentary production, since the decision was taken unilaterally by the national government, unaware that the search work was carried out by the teams of indigenous peoples from the area and relatives in the beginning, and only later by the military forces,” the organization wrote in a public statement.
In their view, the state cannot decide to make a documentary behind the backs of the next of kin, the indigenous guard, and the various organizations and communities that participated in the search, “bypassing the autonomy, the knowledge system and the self-government of our territories, the Amazon region and all the people who live there.” Opiac requests that no production be carried out until all the organizations and people involved can participate in the decision. It seems that any studio that intends to tell the story of what happened in the jungle must first reach an agreement with all these organizations, which surely will not be easy.
All this is taking place despite the fact that custody of the children is still up in the air. While they continue to recover in a military hospital, the children remain under the protection of Family Welfare, Colombia’s institute for minors. The authorities must now decide whether to leave them in the care of their maternal grandparents — the parents of the mother who died in the plane crash — or their father, Manuel Ranoque, against whom complaints have been filed in the past involving abusive behavior towards his wife and kids. A third option would be for the children to remain under the guardianship of the state. In that case, the plans for all these blockbusters would be up in the air.
Even so, producers and streaming platforms are fighting to be the first to secure the rights. The adventure of the children of the Amazon has become as fascinating as Alive was back in the day — the story of a rugby team lost in the Andes after a plane crash who had to resort to cannibalism to survive; or, more recently, the rescue of children trapped in a cave in Thailand for two weeks. Meanwhile, the four siblings rescued from the Amazon jungle continue to see life through the windows of a hospital, unaware of what the world has in store for them.
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