Film tackles American dreams on the slope of a volcano
Students were exposed to life in one of the largely forgotten Mayan communities of Guatemala as part of a film festival which explores culture in different Latin American countries. Photo by Victor Gee.

Film tackles American dreams on the slope of a volcano

Yearning for a better life, desiring escape from patriarchal institutions, and hoping to see more of the world are all themes that play in Jayro Bustamante’s debut film “Ixcanul.” The 2015 film was shown in the Performing Arts and Humanities Building on May 8 as part of the Spanish Film Club series, and as part of the larger Modern Language and Linguistics & Intercultural Communication (MLLI) Department film festival.

“Ixcanul,” or “volcano” in English, is set in a village built on the slopes of an active volcano in Guatemala and tells the story of Maria, a seventeen-year-old girl who feels restricted by the expectations of her family and her people and who longs to escape the bleak life that she sees for herself in her home.

Maria hopes for the chance to see the United States, clinging to an idyllic vision of a beautiful nation brimming with big houses, nice cars and a better future. All of this perceived fortune awaits Maria behind the volcano, which serves as a backdrop for the film, providing a barrier between Maria and her dream life.

Countless trials are sent Maria’s way and her troubles increase as she struggles to reconcile her own desires with her hesitation to do anything that might bring shame upon her family.

Ixcanul is the first film in history spoken primarily in Kaqchikel, one of almost 30 Mayan languages, many of which are currently being revitalized in an effort to restore a culture that was threatened and destroyed by colonization in Latin America.

Occasionally, Spanish is spoken in the film, providing some moments of the extreme tension for the viewer because it is only spoken in key moments when Maria’s family needs information. Her family is taken advantage of time and again because of their inability to access the language more widely spoken in Guatemala.

Freshman Media and Communications Studies major Anjali DasSarma spoke about the importance of the film to exploring the customs and life of the Mayan people in their original language, saying, “It was opening my eyes to another culture in looking at the gestures and hearing the intonations of the language. I was interested because there was very little Spanish, but what little I heard I was able to understand despite only being in Spanish 102.”

In his first feature, writer and director Bustamante did not shy away from tackling important and difficult issues, such as a stringent cultural adherence to tradition, gender inequality, selling children, unplanned pregnancy, abortion, unwilling arranged marriages, and the desire to shirk custom. The MLLI film festival will continue with more showings later in March and in April for students who have a desire to immerse themselves in films that explore another culture and language.