Despite the much awaited sun this week, a full house gathered at the ICA, Cambridge Arts Picturehouse, Dukes at Komedia and BFI Southbank for one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, the Oscar nominated Embrace of the Serpent, with a chance to meet director Ciro Guerra.
Last night’s screening at the BFI saw the 400-seat NFT1 screen filled with a standing ovation at the end and a queue for last minute tickets running out of the building and round the block. Apparently this has never happened before at the BFI for a foreign language preview.
Inspired by two of the only known accounts of Amazonian cultures, the travel diaries of Theodor Koch Grunberg and Richard Evans Schultes, the film tells the story of Karamakate, a shaman and last of his tribe, as he assists two scientists in finding the mysterious Yakruna plant. As Guerra states, “the explorers have told their story, the natives haven’t”, a fact that the film resolves through a poetic meditation on the effects of colonialism, religion, the exploitation of rubber, indigenous traditions and the environment seen through the eyes of Karamakate.
Following the screenings, Guerra beautifully expanded on the film’s intricacies and talked about the film’s influences, collaboration and a special screening in the Amazon. Here are four things we learned:
A Collaborative Project
Five years in the making, the film was hugely influenced by the Amazonian people who agreed for the story to be depicted, generously sharing knowledge of their culture and being largely involved in the production as cast and crew members. Notably, Guerra pointed out that the film is in no way a documentary, and due to the request of the Amazonian people, many of the film’s details are fictitious, such as that the names of sacred plants, which are of great significance to their culture.
The Importance of Storytelling
Inspired by Amazonian storytelling, a hugely important tradition for indigenous tribes in keeping histories and wisdom alive, the film conveys its power through the endurance of stories as they travel through time within its dual narrative. The importance of oral storytelling and mythology also played an important role in the writing progress and influenced the film’s transcendent narrative. Its split-narrative structure was also visually inspired by the Amazonian landscape, such as the reflection of the black rivers, which give the impression that the world is splitting into two.
The Colour of the Amazon
Guerra talked about the impossibility of being able to capture the Amazon and its abundance of colour, explaining why the choice of black and white functions to capture the audience’s imagination. Guerra described the only bursts of colour in the film as the moment in which the film cracks open and expands itself, visually representing the spiritual realm experienced by the Barasana people.
Screening in the Amazon
The captivating magic that certain films create in the cinema has never been truer with Embrace of the Serpent. Guerra recounted the special screening for locals that took place in a maloka, a traditional longhouse, which was transformed into a cinema for one night. Over 1000 people gathered for the film with only 400 seats available, with some attendees travelling for two days to see the film. At the audience’s request, the film was screened twice!
Experience Embrace of the Serpent in cinemas & on-demand June 10
Visit www.embraceoftheserpent.co.uk for tickets and more info.
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