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Guardians of the Amazon Green
Guardians of the Amazon Green

There's a place where the Chullachaqui, a squat entity with one backward-facing foot, is father and protector of the forest; where lush vegetation grows from the body of the Sachamama, a massive boa constrictor, the spiritual mother of the area; and where river-dwelling pink dolphins morph into women-seducing gringos, carrying their female conquests to a secret underwater lair.

That place is the Amazon River basin, home of supernatural beings such as these who populate a belief system as dense and dynamic as the Amazon itself.

Though the mythic world of the Amazonian people has been as remote to Western sensibilities as the region is geographically distant, Spanish professor and poet Juan Carlos Galeano has spent the better part of a decade immersed in the culture of the area. In "The Trees Have a Mother: Stories of the Amazon," Galeano, film professor Valliere Richard Auzenne and students from the award-winning College of Motion Picture, Television and Recording Arts take moviegoers on a cinematic expedition showcasing these mythological characters and the riverine dwellers who retell everyday encounters of the Peruvian Amazon's inhabitants—seen and unseen.

The film debuted in February during FSU's Seven Days of Opening Nights, and its Spanish edition will premiere in Peru this summer during an Amazonian art festival in Iquitos, near the communities where Galeano and Auzenne filmed their work.

Galeano is a native of the Colombian Amazon and author of widely acclaimed poetry inspired by the folktales. With this film, Galeano, Auzenne and crew enter a world where sentient nature interacts with the mestizos, the contemporary descendants of the ancient indigenous, multi-ethnic villagers of the Peruvian Amazon.

"Western societies have maps that are full of political fictions, gods, and different mythologies within which we operate daily, and the Amazonians have theirs," Galeano says.

These stories provide psychological and spiritual guidance in a culture where modern realities are interpreted and integrated with an ancient, indigenous worldview, he says. "They…don't have social security or unemployment. There is no government who is going to give me a check. If I need to eat, I need to apply to the mythological system, to a shaman, who gets power and knowledge from the forest by going, fasting in the forest, drinking psychotropic plants and then getting knowledge and spiritual support."

As a result, the supernatural accounts are inherently communal as well as personal. "These concepts are so much a part of their everyday life and ingrained in them. They are incorporated into the daily activities and things that happen in their families," Auzenne says. "A lot of the storytellers would tell us, 'This happened to me: My husband was impersonated by a dolphin, and I made love to the dolphin."

Before embarking to shoot the film, the FSU team was visited by a couple of village shamans. They came to bless the equipment and the crew so that all would be safe.

"We all, no matter what belief system, are looking for guardians, someone to protect us," Auzenne says. "When we wrapped, I took a deep breath (of relief). No one was hurt, which was my concern. None of our equipment was damaged." —M.M.W.


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