FILM CHRONICLES THE MOVEMENT TO SAVE A SACRED LAND AND A VISIONARY CULTURE
— When Argentine filmmaker Hernán Vílchez made his way up into the remote Wixarika community of San Andrés Cohamiata Tateikie high in the Western Sierra Madre of Mexico, he knew he would be entering another world. What he didn’t know was how deeply it would change his own life.
The movie tells the story of the Wixarika or Huichol people, one of the most intact precolonial people remaining in the Americas, and their battle to save the sacred site upon which their cosmovision depends from Canadian gold and silver mining operations. It’s a story emblematic of a horrifically destructive industry at work all over the world, and at the same time unique to this time and place and culture, and it’s a story that’s very much alive.
Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians, a beautiful and profound new film released on demand at www.huicholesfilm.com and named Best Documentary Film by the Red Nation Film Festival, breaks new ground on many fronts. First there was the making of the film, which revolves around the pilgrimage of a single family, that of the marakame or shaman José Luis Ramírez, or Katira by his Wixarika name, to the sacred desert of Wirikuta and to the Cerro Quemado, the Birthplace of the Sun. Other films have been made exploring the colourful and deeply spiritual traditions of the Wixarika people, but none that has covered with this level of depth and professionalism the spiritual traditions of this people and the existential threat that culture now faces.
The people are being crushed, the governments don’t care about the cultures and they violate them”
The film crew, accompanied by numerous members of the Ramírez family, has also pioneered a new approach to distribution in an era of self-publishing and artistic independence. Rather than premiering the film at a prestigious film festival and then concentrating their efforts on audiences and festivals in major cities, the crew premiered the film in a way that most resembles the ancient Wixarika pilgrimage, but in reverse. The first two showings were in the pilgrimage destination, the threatened sacred site itself, the remote mountain range and desert valley of Wirikuta. The next stop was a two-day caravan up into the even more remote Wixarika territories. Only then did they take their tour to overflow crowds in Mexico’s two largest cities—Guadalajara and Mexico City.
The film’s North American premiere at Rice University Cinema in Houston met overflow crowds on November 5, and subsequent screenings in San Antonio, Austin, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos have also brought an enthusiastic response. At press time the tour continued to make its way through California and prepared to screen its Canadian premiere in Montreal, followed by screenings in Toronto and Vancouver.
The film is being used to raise awareness about the threat to the Wixarika people, whose very culture depends on their ability to make their pilgrimages to their sacred sites, to maintain a reciprocal relationship with what they call “the essences of life” that reside in these places. As the Chile tour wound to a close and the planning for the European and North American tours was gearing up, plans for the film went much further.
For one thing, there’s the hope that the money raised will be enough to make a meaningful difference back in the communities in Mexico. The film will be used as a platform to raise money to support permaculture development projects in the communities featured in the film, both to provide a safe alternative to mining and to help keep the Wixarika ceremonial centers alive.
For another, there’s the vision of using the film to draw attention to the epidemic of assaults on indigenous and non-indigenous communities by transnational corporations and unaccountable governments.
This is more than a movie—it’s a movement”
“This film is emblematic of what is happening to communities throughout the world—it’s not just about the Huicholes,” explained Vilchez. “Our hope is that we can raise awareness about these issues in Mexico but also in the communities where we are traveling.”
Eduardo “Lalo” Guzmán, a longtime resident and steward of Wirikuta who has been at the forefront of the movement from the beginning, spoke of the parallels to the Wirikuta struggle that are taking place around the globe.
“What’s happening to the Wixarika people is also happening to other peoples around the world—United States, Canada, Guatemala, Chile, and many others. The people are being crushed, the governments don’t care about the cultures and they violate them. Our government carries the banner of defender of cultures; in fact they’re not oriented toward the well-being of life, but rather material gain.”
“The environmental movement is beginning to recognize that indigenous communities and people of colour are impacted most by extraction industries and climate change,” said Bryan Parras of the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s), organizer of the movie’s North American premiere in Houston. “These same communities benefit the least from these developments and are often left with the legacy of toxic pollutants. Organizations like Idle No More, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and the People’s Climate Justice Alliance are reshaping the environmental movement. Likewise, new networks are being formed in the south with our brothers and sisters in Mexico and Latin America.”
“This is more than a movie—it’s a movement,” says Vilchez.
Since its release in May, the movie has been seen by more than 17,000 people—most of them in free screenings throughout Mexico. Of the 107 screenings since the premiere in May, 10,700 saw the movie in 17 free public screenings—an enormous effort made possible by the contributions of many people and organizations. The North American tour has included 30+ screenings in more than 20 cities in the United States and Canada, with the U.S. premiere at Rice Theater in Houston, Texas, and the Canadian premiere hosted by Cinema Politica in Montreal, Quebec.
For more information about movie screenings, as well as future plans, visit www.huicholesfilm.com.
You can also find information on Facebook at Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians and on Twitter: @PeyoteGuardians.
The film can be rented online at https://vimeo.com/ondemand/huicholesfilm.