It is quite possible our great corporations will succeed in finishing Nature off and plant genetically modified corn over its burnt out remains. It is quite possible they will intimidate and expel the Indigenous from their lands. On the other hand, resistance is growing. Many young Maya now read their calendar quite differently. They say the world will not go under. It will start anew, but we all have to fight for it, here and now. If one is searching for impressive evidence of this tenacious determination, Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth is it.
It would have been easy for the filmmakers to cross over into mythological-poetic kitsch and confirm the fears of our own demise from some authoritative source. But Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth is a distinctly discrete film far too wise for this, meaning much more political. It asks who is destroying the world? Who is doing the raping, murdering and pillaging?
Of course one cannot simply reverse European history and the creation of the “Self”, which is also tied to liberation from the forces of nature. But one can empathize with a philosophy that does not separate the individual from nature.
This different relationship to nature is better described with pictures than with words. Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth does exactly this, with clouds that glow from within, rivers with power one can sense, or mountains, which exude an inner peace. The camerawork creates settings that inspire fascination in a hitherto unknown world.
The filmmakers, Eric Black and Frauke Sandig, attempt to capture a worldview. In their documentary “Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth”, Chepita and other young present-day Maya speak in their own words without commentary. The filmmakers were in Guatemala and Mexico for more than a year, time to build the deep trust and intimacy required to participate in everyday life and sacred rituals. They brought along their curiosity and understanding. They leave the Maya’s statements stand on their own and their questions open. Powerful images of nature are overlaid with the words from the creation myth, handed down through generations in the “Popol Vuh”, the holy book of the Maya. Giant tortoises come out of the sea to bury their eggs in the sand. The moon plays with the clouds, the shadows with the light.
The directors use our doomsday fantasy to give the contemporary Maya a voice. They in turn explain how they see the world and the real problems that threaten our devastation. Their analysis seems not unreasonable. What prevails today, they say, is another crisis much like the one that brought the collapse of their ancient Mayan civilization. Everyone wanted to amass more wealth; only the natural resources are ran out. The ‘system’ is again reaching its limit. The result is, as one Maya says in the film, “The era of the people of corn coming to an end.”
A great, quiet, disturbing film.
Peter von Becker
The documentary reminds us of the first fragment of Heraclitus of Ephesus: “All is one”: In the cosmovision of the Maya, everything is sacred and nothing is separate. One is connected to the whole and to the soul of nature. Now, at the end and the beginning of a new cycle in the Mayan Long Count calendar, the filmmakers present the homeland of nearly 9 million present-day Maya in Mexico and Guatemala as a perfect microcosm showing how unrestrained globalization will destroy indigenous peoples and the Earth with drastic consequences for us all. In one sequence, at their festival in Oventic, the Mayan Zapatista Army Commandante David proclaims, “ We, the Zapatistas are obligated to do something and not permit people greedy for power and money to finish off nature and humanity. If we don’t do anything, the powerful, the corrupt officials and neoliberals won’t halt their plans of destruction and death.” The end of the great cycle of the Mayan calendar is used in the film as a metaphor for the end of the rainforest, the corn, clean water. It is not the end of the world, it’s time to change.
It is an exquisitely, achingly beautiful film – wonderfully conceived and sensitively filmed. I particularly appreciated the references to ancestral dreams and memories, sequences that ring truer than any film I’ve ever seen on Maya spirituality… The sequences on the war were particularly poignant. One of the communities I lived in for 6 months was completely wiped out—I still don’t know if anyone survived. It is my sincerest hope that some lived to tell their stories like the wonderful people in this film. What strikes me is the resilience of the Maya in the face of powerful and concerted efforts to destroy or alter it. I was profoundly affected by this film and will carry many of its images with me to the end of my days.
Allen J. Christenson, Author of Popul Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Maya
The Mayas of Southern Mexico and Central America have survived natural and man-made calamities over the centuries, but now their very existence as a people with their own culture is at stake. This sensitive and beautiful film made by Frauke Sandig and Eric Black penetrates into the very heart of today’s Maya culture and describes the challenges faced by these indigenous peasants in their daily struggles to maintain their ethnic identity and to resist the global forces that threaten their survival as a distinct people. The film draws on Maya oral traditions, contemporary customs and lifestyles, economic conflicts and social movements, to provide the viewer with a broad picture as well as telling details of the descendants of one of the world’s great civilizations who refuse to disappear.
Rodolfo Stavenhagen, first United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples
A poignant film with wonderful, amazing images … It turns out that the real culture of the Maya has very little to do with what is understood in Western metropolises. Mayan culture lives on in its own singular fashion.
It is palpable how much the beliefs of the ancient Maya are still fused with their present, everyday life. As with the Mayan calendar, there is no beginning and no end, only constant renewal. That makes “Heart of Heaven, Heart of Earth” give us hope the beginning of the new calendar cycle will bring the dawn of a better time.
In a lyrical film with grandiose settings, the directors didn’t lose sight of the heart of the matter: men and women of flesh and blood, who in their humble everyday lives, carry on a very ancient legacy, its wisdom, its cosmovision and its universality. Through these people’s lives, viewers get a glimpse of the prodigious Maya civilization and connect with the prophetic visions of the new cosmic cycle underway.
Jury statement First Peoples Festival in Copresentation with RIDM, Montreal: Best Documentary, Best Cinematography, 2nd Teueikan Prize