Yuri Sanada is a Brazilian film producer and environmentalist developing projects that center on conservation. His self-designed film studio and home, “Casa Orgânica”, was sustainably built with recycled materials like old tires and PET bottles. The studio has produced a suite of environmental films in collaboration with the UK and Canada, including the first Brazilian IMAX educational film, Amazon Adventure 3D, about the world’s greatest biodiversity hotspot. His latest project was a TV series titled Phoenicians Before the Columbus Expedition, in which a replica of a 600 BC Phoenician ship is sailed from Tunisia to the USA, measuring the quantity of micro-particles of plastic in the water along the way. Sanada is currently developing his latest film, Amazon River: from Ice to Sea Expedition and will travel the entire length of the most powerful river on Earth.


Q. Tell us about some of the projects you’ve worked on. 

A. Since 1998, our company in Brazil has selected stories that feature nature as the most important part of life. We produce content about travel and ecotourism, social inclusion, history, and adventure, telling stories that inspire people. We try to transmit the important message that we need to preserve the world we live in— otherwise all the wonders the audience is watching and enjoying could disappear forever. We have series about wildlife in different ecosystems, urban families experiencing nature, differently-abled people showing how they overcame obstacles through outdoor activities, life in indigenous tribes, scuba diving destinations, and more. The biggest production we did so far was a co-production with Canada and the UK called Amazon Adventure 3D, the first Brazilian IMAX film. This giant-screen film tells the amazing story of the young Englishman Henry Walter Bates, who came to the Amazon in 1848 with his friend Alfred Russel Wallace. He spent 11 years in the forest capturing species and sending them to museums and private collections in England. He catalogued over 14 thousand species, 8 thousand of which were new to science, and discovered the concept of mimicry, when one species copies the  characteristics of another species to gain some advantage. When he returned to England in 1859, Charles Darwin had just published his book On the origin of the species, but no one had proved his theory. Bates gave Darwin species of Amazonian butterflies that showed one species evolving into another. Darwin called it “a most beautiful proof of the truth of the theory”. 


Q. Why do you think it was important to tell the story of Henry Bates?

A. Henry Bates’ life is an example of dedication to science, and showing his story in a film that is exhibited in museums around the world is a good way to encourage the young to be curious and seek more education. Henry Bates’ life also illustrates the real importance of the Amazon Forest. When Bates and Wallace decided to seek the secrets of life on Earth, they chose to go to the Amazon, because it is the single most biodiverse place on the planet. Even today, most people don’t understand the importance of the Amazon to the whole planet. Not only does it keep the atmosphere balanced, but it also regulates the climate for the whole South American continent. In the Amazon Forest we may find the cure for diseases like cancer or diabetes. We simply don’t know yet what treasures are hidden deep in the Amazon. And on the other hand, by destroying the Amazon, we may release diseases and pandemics far worse than COVID-19. So inspiring young people through stories about people like Henry Bates sets the stage for future conservation and discovery.


Q. What was the experience of making the film like?

A. Although our film is an adventure with actors and not a classic documentary, we shot on-site in the Amazon to stay as true as possible to the scientific aspects of the story, because the museums demand a high level of veracity. We had advice from top scientists from many countries, and that made the experience even more rewarding. We even got permission from the Natural History Museum in London to use some insects Bates himself captured in Amazon, and we brought them back to Brazil for the filming. We had hundreds of people from different countries involved in the shooting in Brazil and in England, and everyone was engaged in making the best possible production, knowing it would inspire young people around the globe. Of course, filming in the forest where there are no roads, we had to use the rivers to transport personnel and equipment to our locations. We had special animal handlers, and our greatest care was not to damage or stress them out. My personal favorite experience was traveling for 2 hours on a van with the huge powerful jaguar we used on the film sitting by my side like a kitten.


Q. What other environmental topics have you explored in your projects?

A. Another important project we did more recently was an archaeological expedition aboard a replica of a 600 BC Phoenician ship. With an international crew, we sailed from Tunisia in the North of Africa across the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean until we reached the Caribbean and later Florida in the USA. During the 5-month period of the journey, we took daily samples of sea water to measure the amount of micro-plastics. This partnered with the UN Environment Clean Seas Campaign, and we were successful in promoting the need to reduce the use of single-use plastics. Unfortunately, the oceans are very polluted, and unless there is a significant change in our behavior, in a few years there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. And we ingest the plastic when we eat seafood, and nobody knows yet how it will affect us.


Q. Would you have done anything differently in either of your projects? 

A. On both projects, and on others that we produced along the years, we eventually found ourselves in difficult situations, even though we plan a lot before we start the productions. Since we shoot in nature, most of the time we are not in a controlled environment like you would find in a studio—we are subject to the conditions we encounter. The thing we try to improve on the most is having cleaner productions with a lower carbon footprint.


Q. If there's one thing you want people to know about the Amazon, what is it?

A. The most important thing we need to understand is that the Amazon is not a region that, if it disappears, won’t affect other regions. It will affect the whole planet. The forest and the river are formed by different ecosystems that depends on each other to survive. It is imperative that we keep the Amazon intact, preserving the greatest biodiversity on Earth for future generations. However, people tend to think it’s just a lot of trees, and they need to be taught the correct concept. The project we are developing right now will be a series to show that the Amazon is formed by different ecosystems. As the name reveals, Amazon River: from Ice to Sea, will show that the Amazon river starts in the ice-covered mountains of Peru and travels for almost 7 thousand kilometers until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. And during that long journey, a miracle happens, and everything is in balance. If we don’t disturb that, nature will make sure all remains in balance. We only need to step back and make sure we don’t destroy all of that. On the social side, the plans for the vehicles we are developing for this project, solar and pedal powered boats, we'll give for free to the river communities, so they can start thinking there is an affordable alternative to the gasoline outboard engines they use on their boats. The fossil fuel not only pollutes their environment, but can cost twice as much as the price in urban centers.


Q. For those interested in supporting Amazon conservation efforts, what would you suggest?

A. Some people think the Amazon is only a concern for Brazil and the other 7 countries that share the region. I ask, if your neighbor starts an explosive factory next to your house, do you not have a  right to complain and ask for strong security matters? Be aware that if he blows up, you’ll blow up. That’s the case of the devastation of the Amazon that affects the whole world, you included. We all should get involved. There are a number of organizations that make genuine contributions to the preservation of the Amazon that people can support. And as much as possible, we need to put pressure on the governments to make them understand that we need the ecosystems preserved; not only the Amazon, but all of them. We can start by acting locally, reducing consumption, producing less garbage, saving water, and denouncing wildlife illegal trade.  


Q. What do you think the future of conservation looks like?

A. We are now thinking of colonizing Mars and terraforming it, and dreaming of finding microscopic life over there. Space exploration is very important, but to me it reminds me of Aesops’ fable of the dog with a bone in his mouth who, crossing a bridge, looked down on the water and saw a dog with a bigger bone. He opened his mouth to bark at the dog and his bone dropped in the water. He then realized he already had something of value but lost it chasing an illusion out of pure greed. It relates to us, as we are preparing to go into the cosmos trying to find life while we are failing to preserve the real wonderful life we already have here. Everyday species goes extinct, and for me they are as precious as any life we might find on another planet. If we don’t learn to respect and protect all animal life on Earth, how can we expect to do better if we find life out there? We all need to act now to preserve what we have in front of us. That is what the future of conservation looks like.