- For seven weeks, the film crew worked in the jungle, in the provinces of Vaupés and Guainía, deep in Colombia’s Amazon region.
- The home of the Puinave people is right next to the 557-feet high Mavicure mountain; one of three in the area that belong to the Guiana Shield, one of the oldest geological formations on earth.
- The Puinave say they are offended because the footage was taken “without the prior consent of the traditional authorities, violating law 21 of Colombia’s Constitution, about free, prior and informed consent of the communities where a project is to take place.”
The Colombian production has won most of the biggest international film awards, among them the Art Cinema Award at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, and recently, it was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. It marks the first time that a Colombian movie receives such an honor, and its among the few films that have made indigenous peoples and the Amazon its central focus on the big screen.
For seven weeks, the film crew worked in the jungle, in the provinces of Vaupés and Guainía, deep in Colombia’s Amazon region. The story is based on a historical event: the script was inspired by the expedition notes taken in the early 20th century voyage led by Theodor Koch-Grünberg, a German explorer who made one of the greatest contributions to the study of indigenous peoples in South America, particularly in Brazil and Venezuela.
In the movie, the protagonist is a shaman called Karamakate, —played by the actor Miguel Dionisio Ramos, of ticuna ethnic background– the last of his tribe still alive. Alongside Theodor Koch-Grünberg and the American scientist, Richard Evans Schultes, Karamakate goes out on an expedition in search of a sacred plant known as delyakruna. The three men’s adventures, and the dynamic that plays out between Karamakate and the two foreigners interested in his culture, are at the core of this story.
Jessica Kiang, writing for the Indieware blog, described Karamakate’s character as “an immaculate portrait of the unfathomable loneliness and crushing survivor’s guilt that comes with being the last of one’s kind.”
It may be that critics and audiences around the world are in love with The Embrace of the Serpent, but there is an indigenous community living in the area where filming took place that says it isn’t happy with the production.
The home of the Puinave people is right next to the 557-feet high Mavicure mountain; one of three in the area that belong to the Guiana Shield, one of the oldest geological formations on earth. The Mavicure is important for the Puinave because that’s where they can find ñopo, the seed of a flower that the local shamans use in their ceremonies.
Mavicure’s peak is also where the most powerful scene of The Embrace of the Serpent was shot. According to the blog Las 2 Orillas, the 3,600 Puinave who live in the eight indigenous reservations that make up their territory, feel profoundly offended because the footage was taken “without the prior consent of the traditional authorities, violating law 21 of Colombia’s Constitution, about free, prior and informed consent of the communities where a project is to take place.”
Apparently, film producer Cristina Gallego had gotten permission from the communities of El Venado and El Remanso, but she hadn’t consulted all eight reservations in the area.
The president of the traditional indigenous leadership association of the Puinave people, Uriel Aponte Cabria, says that The Embrace of the Serpent fictionalizes the truth about their sacred plants.
“We’re not a culture of ayahuasca nor of coca leaves. I don’t understand where they got the idea that in Mavicure there is a plant that makes you dream awake,” said Aponte Cabria to Las 2 Orillas. “If they were going to focus on a topic that is sacred to others, the film production must have come up with a protocol, a guide.”
Mongabay made an interview request for the team behind The Embrace of the Serpent, but did not hear back. For the time being, Uriel Aponte is asking that, at least, the film be screened in their community.
“If the movie recognizes indigenous knowledge, and the ancestral wisdom it claims to have, then they’ll know that achievements can’t go to a single individual but to the whole collective. The mountains and our territory are the movie’s protagonists and so we should also be listed in the credits.”