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An anthropological research documentary in Peru about spiritual tourism, neo-shamanism and the psychedelic mysteries of plant medicine Read more

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This project was successfully funded on July 23, 2014.

An anthropological research documentary in Peru about spiritual tourism, neo-shamanism and the psychedelic mysteries of plant medicine

About this project

Ayahuasca is a psychedelic brew which has been used for divinatory and healing purposes in the Amazon basin since, at least, the 16th century. There are now more Westerners than ever traveling to South America in search of this shamanic experience. These are known as 'spiritual tourists'

Research questions during my MA with the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology (University of Manchester):

  • Why are, nowadays, mostly foreigners interested in going through the processes of shamanic initiation?
  • Do Western and Amazonian shamans share the same views about the possibility of life after death? 
  • Has the replacement of religious beliefs for science, reason and capital left a metaphysical vacuum in modern societies?

'The Mirror of the Spirit' primarily follows the life of an old shaman from Puerto Maldonado, an accidental tourist and a recovering drug addict seeking healing. They are like tributaries of the same river, converging towards this ancient practice for so many different personal reasons. A journey that surveys examples of mestizo, indigenous and western shamanic practices. The film also contains interviews with others met along the way by documenting what Ayahuasca has shown to them. In Pucallpa we stay with the Shipibo-Conibo people at a community along the Ucayali River. And, in Iquitos, we are welcomed at an holistic healing centre mostly ran and visited by foreigners.

Before heading to Peru I studied many books about Ayahuasca (Narby, Mckenna, Harner, Winkelman, Luna, etc.) in preparation for my project. But none of the books gave me the deep understanding that I obtained while being there in the Amazon. I learned so much from it all.

Here are some topics covered in 'The Mirror of the Spirit':

  • Dieting and/or isolation
  • Habituation process of one's body and nervous system
  • Intense training of those who wish to become healers
  • How the ancient songs directly trigger the visions and are a fundamental part of an ayahuasca ceremony
  • Existence of a widespread variety of unprofessional self-appointed medicine men that care about little other than easy money
  • How new-age terminology is used to lure unexperienced new comers
  • How ayahuasca is ultimately the shaman's tool of diagnosis to 'see' what ails his patients, and not a psychedelic panacea against all diseases
  • Why ayahuasca is considered a sacred medicine of the indigenous and how little we still know about it
  • How one feels so light and purified the morning after
  • How incredibly beneficial the ayahuasca experience is both physically and psychologically to human beings
  • How ayahuasca triggers intense inner insight and acknowledges the immense potential that we all hold inside to protect oneself, our precious conscious soul, and our ridiculously small uniqueness 
  • By going through the stages of ego-death, seeing the past flash before your eyes and to have the opportunity to analyze what you have done so far.

All this can be a heavy privilege to go through alone, that is why it is so important to be sure and safe of who you are with. No one comes out indifferent from their shamanic experience.

I'm not trying to make any sort of profit with this project. My hope is that this film will give the viewer a greater understanding of ayahuasca so they can make wiser decisions about its use. When I began this documentary I had no idea what I was going to find or who I was going to meet. So the film is organized chronologically because, along the way, it just gained a life of its own. I tried to remove my subjectivity from this work. People's opinions are more important than mine. I have no specific agenda, I merely captured those who came into my path. The audience just has to watch and make up their own mind.

This is my first attempt to fund a project via a platform such as Kickstarter. I believe it is common sense that trust, integrity and transparency are fundamental for such a relationship to work successfully for all parties. For that reason, I do hope you find the packages I'm offering fairly priced, accessible for all, and one of a kind.

Until now, I have self-funded the production of this documentary because I believe the subject matter is increasingly relevant, due to modern materialistic obscurantism regarding the spiritual world, 'alternative' natural medicine and personal liberty issues. Each of us should have the right to explore that which may provides us with health and wellness aside from pharmaceutical oligarchies and governmental policies. Or at least give experts the possibility of legally researching such substances.

I don't promote breaking the law; I'm advocating freedom of expression, human open source creativity and global solidarity!

I have spent more than £4000 up to this point. But the aim of the campaign is not to help me pay my bills. The objective is to improve the documentary's quality and give it a professional look that I don't know how to do by myself.

  • > £400 - Ayahuasca visions

To hire the expertise of a visual artist to watch my extra footage and add whatever special effects he/she thinks fit the purpose, in order to recreate a dream-like sequence of the visions the medicine induces, as if they were my personal memories (to be included in the middle of the film along live recordings of Shipibo ceremonial songs. Length = 5 minutes). As an example, I would happily give this guy the money: https://vimeo.com/37633048

  • > £300 - Dual-language translation

I've always found it unfair that when people are speaking in English it is just taken for granted that everybody speaks it. For the sake of greater audience intelligibility, I would use this money to hire a translator so that English dialogs also have Spanish subtitles (making it easier for Spanish and South Americans to fully relate to the film) since the whole theoretical concept of 'El Espejo del Espíritu' is focused on the mimetic phenomena between cultures - the indigenous shamans and their Western apprentices.

  • > £300 - Film festival fees and director's attendance

Just to give you an idea - the Economy Ticket for the World Ayahuasca Conference (where I expect to premiere "The Mirror of the Spirit" - in late September, 2014) costs 215€. Due to high number of submissions the best film festivals charge quite high fees. For example, Sundance Festival (60$), IDFA (35€), etc. Furthermore, 'Afluentes' has already been screened at the Eyes & Lenses Festival (Poland), Festival du Cinèma Ethnographic du Quèbec (Canada) and Sardinia Film Festival (Italy) and I was unable to attend due to the travel expenses and living costs associated with it. The director being present at his own screenings is essential to clarify the audiences' doubts and learn from their comments (especially with such an ambiguous and, at times, controversial theme as ayahuasca related tourism). Real human interaction is of the essence.

  • > £300 - Sound design & Color correction

I have done my best on these two very important categories of film-making. But I find it vital to go through the whole film with a professional sound engineer. Due to the degree of Amazonian wildlife it is an incredible headache to maintain a balanced background audio level. Same necessary final touches apply to color. I require the assistance of someone knowledgeable in color grading, to use filters or compensate for the evident differences (in long interviews for example) when the sun moves and a different kind of shade takes over the protagonist's face. All for the sake of giving the full feature a coherent feel to it, if I can overcome my amateur lack of editing skills in these fields.

Thanks for bearing with me up to here, here's a soothing picture of the Ucayali River to relax your eyes:

From my five day boat ride from Pucallpa to Iquitos
From my five day boat ride from Pucallpa to Iquitos

- Why support the post-production and participate in upgrading this documentary?

For a mere £10 you will be the first to have delivered at your house a personalized DVD of a self-funded independent documentary about a new way of approaching healing and the spiritual realm through the minds' of those shamans and spiritual tourists. Ayahuasca medicine might be a valid alternative towards a world wide movement to replace the embedded Cartesian, profit-driven and emotionless way we still treat illness and mortality.

The rest of the packages will allow you to immerse yourself far more deeply in my work and the ancestral mysteries of the 'vine of the soul'. For instance, by giving me your honest opinion about 'The Mirror of the Spirit's' first cut (funding option 4) you could become an official editorial advisor. Or an associate producer and share with me the experience of the World Ayahuasca Conference in Ibiza (funding option 7). There are original Shipibo songs recorded on site, original photographs, academic texts, poetry and a lot more on offer. Really, just check it all out on the right side of your screen! I am truly so curious about the outcome of this project and can't wait to get it out there.

A fantastic upside of crowdfunding is the possibility to share my work directly with those who are actively seeking online for more information regarding shamanism in Peru. My main approach was not to exclusively interview experts on the subject but to give everyone a voice. Nor to create an unfiltered mystical agenda about the whole phenomenon, but instead to let the road (i.e. rivers) lead their way and slowly comprehend such an unique culture. My voyage could have worked out terribly wrong but it didn't. I sought to be completely unbiased, letting people speak for themselves without filtering out the answers I personally did not agree with (or fully understood). The aim was always to remove my intellectual fingerprint from the final film. I am still surprised about how very lucky I was during these two months and want to thank all people that will end up being featured in 'The Mirror of the Spirit'. Their full interviews are available for those who choose funding option 5. So, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to:

Don Ignacio Durí Palomeque
Don Ignacio Durí Palomeque

 

I arrived in Puerto Maldonado on a Tuesday completely unsure about where to go or who to approach first. Thanks to a friend of a friend, on Thursday of the same week, I meet Don Ignacio in his home at the Comunidad Nativa de Infierno. On Friday I moved in and on Saturday participated in my first ayahuasca ceremony. Don Ignacio is a very experienced, funny and down to earth man. He lives life in a very easygoing way, but takes his practice as an ayahuasquero very seriously. He was kind enough to allow me to stay for as long as I wanted, waiting for tourists to arrive and learning more and more about his lifestyle and personality. Incredibly grateful for an amazing first connection with the world of the medicine. This documentary is especially dedicated to him!

 

Osman Oktay
Osman Oktay

 

Ayahuasca changed his life. A traveler transformed into a desperate man, addicted to crack cocaine for years, lost his way, unable to control his bodily dependence anymore, sick of living and wanting to die. Found Don Ignacio in a last act of hope. Drank ayahuasca twice a week for six months and came to understand the root cause of why he was using drugs in the first place. Healed the origin of his inner traumas, 'saw and understood the whole thing'. Now lives in Peru and wants to help other people by leading ceremonies and connecting with those who are fighting against addiction and depression. Feel free to contact Osman directly if you, or a loved one, is dealing with similar issues: luzdeayahuasca@care2.com


Maestro Antonio Vasquez Galarreta
Maestro Antonio Vasquez Galarreta

 

“Birin Soi” (Shinning Light) is a healer shaman and medicine man from the Shipibo-Conibo ethnic group from Ucayali, Peru. He has been working with master plants for almost 40 years already. Descendant of a lineage of shamans, his first master was his grandfather from his mother side. As a child, Antonio was initiated in the use and preparation of Ayahuasca at the age of 8.

At his house, him and his wife Rosita Arevalo host visitors from around the globe who seek the healing power of Ayahuasca and the guidance and protection of a true shaman who grows, brews and prepares his own medicine. Antonio is a member of the Peruvian Association of Curanderos and a respected member of his community. Antonio loves a good laugh, to smoke his pipe while rocking on the hammock, watching his grandchildren play and welcomes every visitor with a hug and big smile. A man of few words and the owner of a powerful voice; while singing his icaros he invokes powerful forces of purification and enlightenment.

Antonio is the kind of master who does not seek for followers; instead he open heartily shares his knowledge with his relatives, neighbors and visitors.

 

Robert Thé
Robert Thé

 

After graduating, I began exploring both cognitive and physical modalities of healing, qualifying in hypnotherapy as well as various schools of bodywork, and in 1991 I co-founded an on-site massage organization. I was commissioned to write a series of books on popular health which were translated into nine languages across the world.

In 1999 I moved to Asia and began to immerse myself in folk healing practices, and in 2002 I returned to the Europe to study for an M.Sc. in Medical Anthropology.

In 2008 my research interests changed when I encountered the tradition of Amazonian Shamanism in the form of plant teachers.

After experiencing the power of the Peruvian Medicine tradition I began to study the Icaros intensely, and after a second period of experiencing Maria Cristina Mendoza's work, Spirit of the Amazon was founded in 2010 to promote the songs and the tradition, and outdoor ceremonies were held in a natural setting.

I am engaged in continued shamanic training and practice, being initiated by Don Enrique Lopez, and being given the title of Maestro. I am now professionally known as Don Roberto.

I have held many ceremonies in different settings, as well as given lectures on the Amazonian healing tradition. Currently together with a co-facilitator and a team of helpers I hold regular monthly weekend and week long events in nature celebrating the power and wisdom of the Medicine which in Asia takes the form of Acacia.

For me, the Amazonian tradition represents a powerful and effective approach to healing, working with aspects of medicinal plants hitherto overlooked in our own allopathic, biomedical tradition, and which could serve as an important adjunct to all those interested in the healing arts and in personal development.

Richard Garcia & Angus Morrison
Richard Garcia & Angus Morrison

 

After careers in teaching, politics, business, and law, Richard woke up one day in 2010, quit his job, sold everything and filled a backpack with just what he needed to explore play around the world. Richard's focus looks at how we may have lived before. Richard has spent over a year living among tribes, learning about minimalism, play's relationship to evolutionary biology and spirituality, ancestral health foods, superfoods and natural medicine. That has also led Richard to participating, preparing and leading Ayahuasca ceremonies in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and Bolivia.

Maestra Estela Pangoza Sinacay
Maestra Estela Pangoza Sinacay

 

https://www.facebook.com/public/Estela-Pangoza-Sinacay

Evan Sola
Evan Sola

 

Evan Sola, Doctorate Candidate in Clinical Psychology at California Institute of Integral Studies. My dissertation is looking at the phenomenology, or direct, lived experience of transformation in MAPS sponsored MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for treatment resistant PTSD. In this work, as well as my personal explorations of transformation, I am interested in understanding the concept of Surrender and its vicissitudes in the role of healing.

David 'Slocum' Hewson
David 'Slocum' Hewson

 

Artist, nutritionist and ayahuasquero.

“The hardest working medicine man that I have ever met”

He has an artist attention to detail which he brings to the healing realm.

He is not a new age fluffy, there is minimal bullshit and an absence of ostentation. He commits to your healing process fully.

He has an artistic perfectionism with heart, subtle yet clear and decisive. Present and kind, though he has a bark and a bite.

He has created an organic healing centre amidst the chaotic vibrancy of Iquitos and the throngs of healers, charlatans, witches and con-artistry.

John and Nicky

 

And a strange selfie of myself
And a strange selfie of myself

 

All images were taken from the 'The Mirror of the Spirit'

All promotional videos were produced to thank these amazing people for their hospitality, sharing their stories with me and friendship.

Dedicated to the inspiring memory of Pablo Amaringo and Terence McKenna.

You can find me on Facebook under a different name, please do feel free to ask me absolutely anything or keep up to date at www.facebook.com/mirrorofthespirit

So many thanks for reading,

João

this is why support independent documentary making in a nutshell :)
this is why support independent documentary making in a nutshell :)

 

Risks and challenges

Since we are dealing with a documentary that is already in post-production not much can go wrong! The only conceivable problem is that I might not find the right individual to work with in recreating the medicine's visions in time for the film's premiere in September at the World Ayahuasca Conference.

But, it is certain that, with your editorial advice the full movie will soon be finished and upgraded thanks to so much different input from all around the world, working together towards the same objective! And a DVD with your name on it will be at your doorstep before you know it!

Finally, if this campaign's goal is reached, any excess funds will be diverted to help restructure a part of Don Ignacio's home; to Maestro Antonio's growing healing retreat at Santa Rosa de Dinamarca; and towards my next project, which will involve returning to the Amazon to again research about the ayahuasca related realms, but this time, through the prism of two new methodologies: neuroscience and quantum mechanics.

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Rewards

  • You selected
    Pledge £5 or more

    3 backers

    A HIGHLY APPRECIATED HIGH FIVE! Thank you for your support!
    In exchange, your name will be mentioned in the final credits!
    You'll also receive a download link for the first chapter of the full movie: 'Afluentes', a 28 minute long ethnographic documentary, part of my MA thesis in Visual Anthropology, concluded last October.
    (Trailer available: https://vimeo.com/76377349)
    In addition you get the right to screen 'Afluentes' for non-commercial purposes as long as you inform the director in advance
    We are now connected!

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    Pledge £10 or more

    31 backers

    BE THE FIRST TO WATCH
    Own a DVD copy of the full feature film sent to your home (when finished) including original photographic artwork in front and back covers.
    You can ask me anything via email about my personal experience. Get in touch and please let me know what you think about what you've seen so far...

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    Pledge £25 or more

    9 backers

    GET X-MAS GIFTS SORTED OUT
    All of the above
    + 2 DVD's with a personalized "THANK YOU

    FOR MAKING THIS MOVIE POSSIBLE with your, or your friends' name on the back cover)
    + 40 original photo stills that transmit the essence of the Peruvian Amazon and attempt to recreate the visions induced by the Ayahuasca experience (which work great as psychedelic wallpapers!)
    Don't worry, the package will arrive before Christmas!
    No extra shipping fees apply.

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    6 backers Limited (14 left of 20)

    BE AN EDITORIAL ADVISER
    All of the above
    + exclusive online access to a 130 minute rough cut of the film. You will have the chance to watch what no one else has. Feedback from outsiders during the editing process is crucial and you will have the privilege of sharing your personal opinion about which scenes work and which are redundant. Your input will be credited as EDITORIAL ADVICE. A private link will be available as soon as this campaign ends.

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    1 backer

    FULL IMMERSION PACKAGE
    All of the above
    + a digital recording of an hour long mp3 with original 'Ayahuasca songs' (Ícaros) recorded in July during ceremony at a Shipibo-Conibo community near Pucallpa and sang by Maestro Antonio Vasquez and his family. Perfect for meditation. Some of the money will be donated to the Maestro's healing retreat.
    + Six very informative and personal full interviews with experienced indigenous/mestizo shamans and Western apprentices - including Maestro Antonio Vasquez, Robert Thé, David "Slocum" Hewson, Evander Sola, Angus Morisson/ Richard Garcia and Don Ignacio Palomeque (each of which is around one hour long).

    + ... 2 more DVD's to share this healing message with your friends... THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH FOR YOUR SUPPORT!!!!

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    3 backers Limited (7 left of 10)

    THE PRIVATE PACKAGE
    All of the above + A 20 page pdf document with original poetry written during fieldwork in the Amazon. It shows how the director was having to deal with balancing film-making and an intense internal life changing process of discovery and catharsis. + A private Skype call where we can openly brainstorm about our experiences, fears and revelations regarding the mysteries of creation and consciousness (the topics depend on your curiosity and the length is undetermined) Life is a surprise! + My 4000 word dissertation for the University of Manchester were I had to 'convince' my advisor that this project was relevant. It goes through the origins of the shamanic world to the popularization of Ayahuasca. It is an useful academic overview of the main authors that have written about the therapeutic use of psychedelics and psychoactive botanical specimens (I got a 66 by the way, which in th UK is pretty good)

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    1 backer All gone!

    FILM PREMIERE AS ASSOCIATE PRODUCER All of the above + the opportunity of attending the World Ayahuasca Conference 2014 and watching the premiere of our movie with the director. You are now officially part of the production team! Your name will be mentioned on IMDB as Associate Producer. This package will include a Phase 2 Economy Ticket (215€) for the conference in Ibiza, 25-27 September. Travel and living expenses will not be provided. + we will have ample time to discuss how to approach a new project related to Ayahuasca and anthropology in the Amazon. To be a creative part on my next documentary, learn about the basics of cinematography and travel with me back to Peru, meet the protagonists of "El Espejo del Espíritu" and experience for yourself the wonders and terrors of this magical medicine. + PARTNERSHIP FOR THE FUTURE?

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Funding period

- (30 days)