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Indigenous film wins prestigious prize at Berlinale 2015

March 4 2015
By: Annemiek Wilson / IWGIA

Indigenous voices have been a focal point of the Berlin International Film Festival, known as Berlinale, since 2013. The festival’s NATIVe – A Journey into Indigenous Cinema series is devoted to telling the stories of indigenous peoples worldwide, and highlights a different major region every second year.

This year’s festival focused on Latin America, and an indigenous story from the Pacaya volcano region in Guatemala was awarded the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize for a feature film that “opens new perspectives.”

Ixcanul Volcano is centred on the story of María, a seventeen year old Kaqchikel Mayan girl who lives on a coffee plantation with her parents. She dreams of exploring life beyond the volcano’s foothills, and embarks on a journey with a young man bound for the USA. When he leaves her behind, she re-discovers her own world and cultural heritage.

Berlinale’s programme describes it as “not a film about Indigenous culture but one that was developed from within it.” This stems from director Jayro Bustamante’s unique approach to creating the story. He grew up in the Kaqchikel Maya region in Guatemala and returned there to make his film. Through script writing workshops and local discussion groups in Kaqchikel, one of the region’s 12 Mayan languages, Buscamante engaged local women in developing the story.

As a result of this dialogue, Ixcanul is based on true events and provides an inside look at the current living conditions of the Maya. It reveals the special connection Maya women have with the rituals of their mothers and grandmothers, and “the plot picks up the rhythm of a life defined by ancestral beliefs and traditions.”

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