How Eli Roth Recruited Amazonian Villagers For ‘Green Inferno’ With ‘Cannibal Holocaust' & Boats

Eli Roth Green Inferno

Eli Roth is going off the grid. For the cannibal pic The Green Inferno, Roth tells Movieline he's taking a small crew to a remote village up the Amazon River that has "no electricity, no running water, nothing." Producers recruited many of the 200 native villagers to play extras in the horror film by screening the cult film Cannibal Holocaust. It was the first movie they'd seen in their lives, Roth remarked. "They thought it was a comedy!"

Roth was newly arrived from a South American prepping trip for the film when he spoke with Movieline Wednesday in Los Angeles about his work producing RZA's The Man With The Iron Fists. The Green Inferno marks his first feature since Hostel: Part II, but then Roth's been busy with a number of projects in the past few years, from acting in and directing a short for Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, producing films for folks like RZA, Ti West (The Sacrament), and Nicolás López (Aftershock, which Roth also starred in), and directing an episode of Hemlock Grove for Netflix, among other projects. (As if there wasn't enough stacked on his plate, he also recently opened his Goretorium attraction in Las Vegas.)

For The Green Inferno, the tale of "naive do-gooders" who run into cannibals when their plane crashes in the jungle (co-written by Roth with Aftershock scribe Guillermo Amoedo), Roth is taking a page out of the Werner Herzog playbook by venturing deep into the Amazon for what he excitedly refers to as "as adventure."

"The location that we found is truly spectacular," he said. "It’s so far up the Amazon, no one has ever shot there. The last person anywhere near there was Werner Herzog for Aguirre, the Wrath of God."

The village is so remote, in fact, that Roth says locals had never seen a film before. "We said, ‘Can we shoot here?’ and talked to them, and our producers said ‘We have to explain to them what a movie is. They’ve never seen a television,'" Roth recalled. "So we brought a generator and set up a television. I thought they were going to show them E.T. or The Wizard of Oz, but they showed them Cannibal Holocaust to see how much they could handle."

1980's Cannibal Holocaust saw director Ruggero Deodato brought up on obscenity and murder charges when authorities at the time believed the graphic human violence depicted onscreen was real. How did Roth's new acquaintances react? "The villagers thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen."

Roth found that his new cast members' unfamiliarity with film technology was an unpredictable benefit. "Because none of them have ever owned a camera or had any photographs of themselves and no conception of what television or movies are, they’re so natural and relaxed. They’re amazing. They’re not even conscious of what [the camera] is doing to them. I have a whole village full of kids that are funny as hell that will have cameras all over and not even think twice about it. They don’t get nervous, nothing."

Deodato himself drew criticism for depicting actual animal deaths onscreen, but another controversial film of the era shot on location with locals, the Italian slavery pic Goodbye Uncle Tom (a reference point for Quentin Tarantino's upcoming Django Unchained), came under fire for hypocritically exploiting the Haitian actors in its cast. Perhaps a stretch, but I asked Roth about the ethics of tapping an entire village to play natives, using the Goodbye Uncle Tom lesson as exploitation cinema's most notorious example.

"Goodbye Uncle Tom is a pretty brutal movie about slavery where you show corks being pulled out of guys’ asses and babies being hosed down," he answered, giving it some thought.

"No, because we’re giving these people a boat," Roth explained. "They have no contact with the outside world and we’re giving them a motorboat — that’s the deal. And we’re giving them medical supplies and school supplies, so they’re ecstatic. The one thing they need is a boat. They were like, ‘This will literally change our lives.'"

Roth begins filming The Green Inferno in two weeks. Stay tuned for our full interview for The Man With The Iron Fists, out November 2.

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  • Cristopher Otárola says:

    First of all, Mondo refers to a movie which contains real deaths footage (Africa I, II, III, Traces of death, Faces of death). On the contrary, Cannibal holocaust is a mockumentary film (This is spinal tap, The blair with project, Rec). Have that in mind before posting.

    • Jen Yamato says:

      CH blurred the line in its own critique of the mondo film by using mondo tactics, but sure. Updated language above.

  • Andrew says:

    He's giving them a boat, so it's totally not exploitative.

    • Jon says:

      I hate Roth, but what else should he give them? Money? They live in a remote part of the amazon, they could care less about money... A boat, school supplies, medical supplies, that's what they need.

      • johnny says:

        Sorry to hear that. They don't need any of that crap.
        They don't need medicine and schoolbooks to live in harmony with and within nature, which is ALL they need. You cannot possibly understand their needs, do you? You give them anything you think they need (or you think you would need in their stead) and you condemn them to death in the long shot, at least death to their culture and ancient way of life (you may think they have none, that's wrong).
        If you want to do them any good, buy them that piece of forest they live in so they're a little bit more on the safe side when on day the bulldozer and chainsaws finally arrive.

        • Kurt says:

          You condescending twirp.

          Sure, let's keep them ignorant and living on a subsistence level because it make YOU feel better that there is still some close-to-nature indigenous folks still out there. Let's not teach their children and let them die of disease to preserve their "ancient way of life."

          These aren't baby sparrows that have fallen out of their nest, these are human beings. Probably human beings with a lifespan in the mid-40s

          • Johnny says:

            Wow, so you do know what's best for them. Good for you, yeah give'em some rum, some guns some crystal meth and don't forget to bring the missionary so they can be as enlightened as we are. Just give'em all that's good all at once, they'll figure it out in a minute. I mean they don't need to know what it is as long as it's good for them. Maybe drop in some a-bombs so they can keep up with the big players.
            Wow, let them get as wise as we are.

          • Kurt says:

            Johnny, I am not the one claiming to know what's best for them. You're the one claiming that "they don't need medicine and schoolbooks to live in harmony with and within nature, which ALL they need." Mery forbid, someone gives them a boat so that they can catch more fish or trade with neighboring villages. Better keep them ignorant hunter-gatherers.

    • Stuart Smith says:

      Exploitative how? They don't care about being filmed, they have no contact with the outside world, they will likely never see the movie, nor care about it. In real terms, the cost to them is zero. Meanwhile, they receive goods whose value to them is immeasurable. A deal where both participants give up something of extremely low value to them, and in return receive something of very high value to them, is pretty much the best case as far as deal making goes.

  • Ant Timpson says:

    First of all Christopher, Mondo doesn't refer to movie nor to real deaths at all. Mondo in filmic terms is derived from Mondo Cane, which in italian roughly translates to "a dogs life". Secondly, what are Africa 1,2,3. Do you mean Shocking Asia or perhaps Africa Addio aka Africa Blood and Guts? And thirdly, if you think Cannibal Holocaust is a mockumentary like Spinal Tap, you may need therapy. You probably mean shockumentary as in Killing of America is a 'shockumentary'. Have that in mind before posting.

    • Ant Timpson says:

      Actually I'm splitting hairs... I just never thought CH & Spinal Tap would ever be considered part and parcel but so maybe I need therapy!

    • Cristopher Otárola says:

      Don't you know Africa (I, II & III)! I saw them on VHS when I was a child. It's a classic. You're wrong, Mondo comes from "Mondo cane" but those movie are based on real death footage, not intended to be a film. A Mockomentary in essence is a fake documentary, a shokcumentary is in this case is a sub gender.

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