EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT: Explorers, Indigeneities, and Colonialism

31 October 2016

A soulful​ ​discovery​ ​captured and shot in stunning black-and-white, Colombian director Ciro Guerra​​’s​ ​internationally co-produced adventure drama film Embrace of the Serpent (2015) will be shown in the Weitz Cinema this Monday (Oct. 31st) from 7pm to 9 pm.

The film was inspired by the real-life journals of two explorers, ethnologist Theodor Koch-Grünberg and​ ​biologist Richard Evans Schultes, who traveled through the Colombian Amazon during the last century in search of the sacred and difficult-to-find psychedelic Yakruna plant. Using these two scientists as a framework, Guerra fictionalizes the history of a forgotten indigenous community, including how the last member of the tribe embarked on important journeys, first in his youth with Koch-Grünberg and later when much older with Schultes.

According to Guerra in an interview with Vice, he has always​ ​been​ ​curious about the Amazon​ ​and making a film there. He began to investigate​ ​by reading the diaries of the explorers who first entered the Colombian Amazon 100 years ago.​ ​His first approach was through these explorers because they were men who had left everything behind—their lives, families, houses, countries—to penetrate the unknown for two, three, or even 19 years in the case of Schultes.​ ​Guerra shares how he identified so much with​ ​these explorers, for it seemed similar to​ ​the process of filmmaking:​ ​One sets off down a dark road and doesn’t know where it will take​ ​one or how long it will be before​ ​one sees the light.​

“It was based on the explorers’ diaries at first, but later when I went to the Amazon, it was completely unlike what they’d documented. We don’t have a collective memory for this time as a society. It’s a lost epoch. The idea was to return to it, to bring it back even though it no longer exists. It would exist again in film.

So I started to follow their tracks and try to hear their echoes. Later I began to work with the indigenous communities. I approached them and spoke with them about what we wanted to do. Working with them, I realized we’d make something special and unique. We would circle around the history and not tell it from the same perspective it’s always told from—that of the adventurer, the traveler—but instead tell it from the indigenous point of view. We’d make them the protagonists. This is the part of the story that hasn’t been told. Switching the perspective and putting the audience in those shoes really interested me. It’s truly a film that hasn’t been seen. But achieving this indigenous perspective, this way of seeing the world, was difficult. It took time. It’s hard to change your thinking like this.”

CIRO GUERRA was born on Río de Oro (Cesar, Colombia) in 1981 and studied film and television at the National University of Colombia. At the age of 21, after directing four multi-award-winning short films, he wrote and directed LA SOMBRA DEL CAMINANTE (THE WANDERING SHADOWS), his feature directorial debut.​ ​His second feature film, LOS VIAJES DEL VIENTO (THE WIND JOURNEYS) was part of the Official Selection – Un Certain Regard of the Cannes Film Festival in 2009. EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT is his third feature film.

Posted In