Filmmaker Hernan Vilchez and his actor Enrique Ramirez were somewhere near Albuquerque when they sent over carefully thought-out responses to my questions about their latest film, Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians, including the basis of the title. "We're the only ones who manage the peyote; it gives us more strength to find where we are connected to the spirits around the universe, and from there comes our visions and everything in the natural world," wrote Ramirez, the spiritual guide and shaman (known as marakame).
Ramirez and Vilchez are currently on a North American tour to spread the word about their film and the people at its center, the Huichols, the people native to the Mexican states of Nayarit, Zacatecas, and Jalisco, an area they refer to as Wirikuta. They currently face threats from corporate mining companies who desire their land for excavation and exploitation. Huicholes stops by this Wednesday at Fullerton College with Ramirez and Vilchez in tow with an open call for donations to help fund the remaining costs of the film and for the Huichol community.
Clemente Ramirez, Enrique's relative, narrates in the opening of the film's trailer on his experience navigating through the modernized world of Mexico's urban cities contrasted with the rural environment of his family, who are part of the Huichols. Clemente is a student in the former and a shaman in the latter, and urges viewers to understand the current plight of his people.
Huicholes, (née Wixarika, before Spanish colonization) are a spiritual people often misunderstood because of their lack of Spanish-speaking skills and because Indians are still the bottom of the totem pole in Mexico. "It's not just Wirikuta; it's also the sacred site of Haramara in the east, where the government is planning a huge ecotourism site, and the sacred site of Scorpion Island to the south, which lacks protection and is being seriously degraded by all sorts of commercial operations," writes Ramirez.
The film details the lives of the Wixarika, as well as the opposing views of the Wixarika and their corporate aggressors; they raise the argument that the mining efforts would support thousands of men with new jobs, but the Wixarika are doubtful of their negotiations; "They say the mine will work underground, that on the surface nothing will be seen. Do they think we are stupid?" says one Wixarika man in the trailer. Currently, mining efforts in the area are suspended, but no one knows for how long.
In its short lifespan, the film has already traveled the country and resonated with audiences, who all have felt compelled to reach out and help in some way. "Today in Albuquerque for example, a Pueblo woman was telling us with quite an emotional expression that she felt the film was like a mirror for their people, Vilchez said. "It was very interesting for her to see similar situations in their land was also shared by the Wixarika far away in Mexico."
This Wednesday's screening will include an outdoor marketplace featuring indigenous and community vendors. After the movie, the traveling crew–Enrique, Vilchez, and other Wixarika spiritual leaders who make appearances in the film–will offer a Q&A discussion. Proceeds from the ticket sales go directly towards helping the Huichols
community projects, as well as the remaining costs from the film's production. An indiegogo campaign for the film is also set up online as well. For more information on Wednesday's screening, visit the event's Facebook page. And to learn more about the Huicholes community and the film, visit the film's webpage at huicholesfilm.com. See you there!
Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians screens at Fullerton College Campus Theater 321 E. Chapman Ave. Fullerton. Wednesday, November 19, 2014 at 5:30pm preceded by an opening ceremony by the film's Huichol spiritual leaders. Tickets are $7.50.