News & Notes

Burlington Film Society presents Embrace of the Serpent

Posted on Mar 29, 2016
Burlington Film Society presents Embrace of the Serpent

In this moment, it is not possible for me to know, dear reader, if the infinite jungle has started on me the process that has taken many others that have ventured into these lands, to complete and irremediable insanity.

If this is the case, I can only apologize and ask for your understanding, for the display I witnessed in those enchanted hours was such, that I find it impossible to describe in a language that allows others to understand its beauty and splendor; all I know is that, like all those who have shed the thick veil that blinded them, when I came back to my senses, I had become another man.

— THEODOR KOCH-GRÜNBERG, 1907

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Roads don’t exist in Embrace of the Serpent, but it is a kind of road movie. A hallucinatory journey into the heart of a jungle; an adventure into primeval time. Inspired by the exploits and diaries of two white scientists and casting a penetrating look on the legacy of colonialism and the effect of outside influence on an aboriginal civilization, Ciro Guerra’s immersive film tells the tale from the indigenous perspective.

In the early 1900s, Amazonian shaman Karamakate encounters an ailing Koch-Grünberg (played by Jan Bijvoet of Borgman) and offers him aid. Forty years later, the ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes (author of The Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers), ventures into the region in search of the sacred and psychotropic Yakruna plant. He too encounters Karamakate, and the two parallel incidents provide the framework for director Guerra’s stunningly photographed and wholly engrossing third feature, shot entirely in the jungles of Vaupés in the Colombian Amazon.

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Whenever I looked at a map of my country,
I was overwhelmed by great uncertainty.
Half of it was an unknown territory, a green sea, of which I knew nothing.
The Amazon, that unfathomable land,
which we foolishly reduce to simple concepts.
Coke, drugs, Indians, rivers, war.
Is there really nothing more out there?
Is there not a culture, a history?
Is there not a soul that transcends?
The explorers taught me otherwise.
Those men who left everything, who risked everything,
to tell us about a world we could not imagine.
Those who made first contact,
During one of the most vicious
holocausts man has ever seen.
Can man, through science and art, transcend brutality? Some men did.
The explorers have told their story.
The natives haven’t.
This is it.
A land the size of a whole continent, yet untold. Unseen by our own cinema.
That Amazon is lost now.
In the cinema, it can live again.

— CIRO GUERRA

The Burlington Film Society is pleased to present the Burlington premiere of this Oscar-nominated film – Colombia’s first film to receive a nomination. The screening will be introduced by Megan Epler Wood, the Director of the International Sustainable Tourism Initiative at the Center for Health and the Global Environment, at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University where she leads an international research program on tools to mitigate tourism’s growing global impacts.  In 1986, she and her husband Greg were Fulbright Scholars in Colombia, where they produced, shot and edited a science documentary, Destino Nublado, on the unique biodiversity of the region and the importance of conservation, distributed by World Wildlife Fund-U.S.  She has received support from the Nature Conservancy, Cultural Survival, USAID and local entrepreneurs to develop ecotourism strategies to conserve the Amazon and its indigenous cultures since 1995. Megan will lead a Q&A after the film.

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– Seth Jarvis, 3/29/16