Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Where the Sun is Born (orig. Releb'al Q'ij / Dónde Nace el Sol) 
Where the Sun is Born (orig. Releb'al Q'ij / Dónde Nace el Sol)  (directed by Elías Jiménez, screenplay by Edgar Sajcabún) is a remarkable Guatemalan film that played recently at the 30th Chicago Latino Film Festival. It holds the distinction of being the first feature length film to be made almost entirely in the native Quiche (Mayan) language (available with English / Spanish subtitles).
Leaning on both the symbolism of the Mayan Popol Vuh as well as the now famous literary/artistic tradition of Latin American Magical Realism, it tells the story of "Maya" (played by various actresses) in four segments across five centuries from the Spanish Conquest in the 1500s to the Present day.
In the opening segment, Maya is told by her Grandmother that their World is held together by two intertwining Serpents representing Time and Space. However, when the Spanish Conquistadors come, they burn the Tapestry of those two intertwining Snakes that the Grandmother had been making for her Granddaughter, sending Maya's world into Chaos. Before dieing, the Grandmother tells Maya that in order to restore the previous order, she must find her way to "The Land where the Sun is Born."
However in the second segment where Maya and as well as other Mayan refugees soon find themselves is The Land "Where the Sun Dies." Yet there is hope. In the midst of desert and darkness she finds that she finds a "friend." Brave, he tries to resist the Conquistadors who continue to pursue the remainder of her people. And before he's killed he turns himself into a "humming bird" serving her from then on as a recurring animal/spiritual companion for the rest of her journey.
But the Trek from "The Land where the Sun has Died" to "The Land where the Sun is Born" is long and soon she finds herself on a Raft floating seemingly timelessly down a River (from the time of the Conquest to the Present Day) to "The Land where the Waters End." And during this seemingly endless journey she's tormented by another kind of bird (a Parrot) who spends his time changing back and forth between his Bird form and that of the Conquistador and continually mocks her.
Finally, she ends in "The Land where the Air Comes From" somewhere in the Jungle. There she finds both the stone monuments of her previous culture AND new helicopter born / M-16 carrying Conquistadors who seem to want to both shoot the remainder of her people and burn the jungle down. However, in the midst of the burning forests, the Conquistadors themselves choke (for lack of clean air).
And so the Conquistadors seem to finally dissipate into the air and Maya and her remaining Mayan companions find themselves by the stone monuments (Pyramids) of their previous culture where they seek to watch the sun rise to begin a New Day and then to reconstruct that Tapestry of the Intertwining Serpants of both Space and Time.
It's really a remarkable fable, well shot and well acted by indigenous Mayan actors. The film's director Elías Jiménez, present at the screening, promised that this film along with others made (with Norwegian and Cuban support) by the indigenous Mayan Casa Comal collective will become available FOR FREE on their community's website / youtube (or vimeo) channel. For those who are interested in indigenous cultures this film will be well worth looking up.
* Foreign language webpages are most easily translated using Google's Chrome Browser.
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