Arami Ullón’s latest is a stunning portrait of one dogged man by the name of Mateo Sobode Chiqueno, who since the ’70s has been on a lonely Sisyphean quest to record (literally, using a cassette recorder) the fast-disappearing culture of his Ayoreo community. Though remnants of the Ayoreo remain uncontacted in the Chaco forests of Paraguay, still worshipping the sun, most are like Sobode Chiqueno, long ago forced off their land and converted to Christianity by dubious do-gooding missionaries.
Respectfully and unintrusively, Ullón follows the indigenous hero on his journey, patiently capturing revelatory conversations and can’t-shake images along the way. Indeed, it’s simply jaw-dropping to watch so many elderly men and women praise Christianity and the “civilized” world they were introduced to when the whites ripped them from their ancestral home. It’s like watching a hostage video.
Ullón’s camera catches the intelligence in their eyes. They know both what they’re supposed to say and that it’s part and parcel of the bill of goods they’ve been sold. In their hearts they are keenly aware that the old ways presented the true righteous path. How could they not be? As one clear-eyed elder points out, disease and hunger had never been part of their previous forest existence.
(…) Everything now, including the water, has been claimed by the whites. Everything, of course, except the sun. (…) Ullón’s final image of a forest fire obscuring the sun, equal parts heartbreaking and maddening, serves as the perfect visual testament to the spirit of one powerful film.
Lauren Wissot, Filmmaker Magazine