THE SPIRIT OF TATÁ
A Documentary Film Project
At 103 years old, Tatá was responsible for safeguarding the tribe’s spiritual legacy through the difficult years of colonization and interference by the rubber tappers and missionaries. Reaching near extinction in the mid-1980s, the Yawanawá decided to expel the missions and it was Tatá who helped lead a revival of their cultural and spiritual practices. He took on apprentices and students to learn the legends, ceremonies, music, healing ways, and sacred plant knowledge that had been kept secret in the hearts and minds of a small handful of shamans and elders during the mission period.
The Spirit of Tatá offers a glimpse into Tatá’s final days—a historic and challenging moment for the tribe as they face losing their beloved elder and greatest living library of spiritual knowledge and power. Surrounded by the ongoing vigil of his family and students, we witness Tatá continuing to share his teachings from his deathbed—hoping to ensure the transfer of knowledge to the next generation. This story is emblematic of a story happening around the world—the story of cultures losing their elders while struggling to recover and revive their ancient languages and traditions before they are lost forever. The film aims to wake up modern audiences to the inherent and vital need to preserve, protect, and support the continuation of indigenous peoples and knowledge for the sake of all Life on earth.
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As a Westerner, it would seem unlikely that a documentary about Tatá, a 103 year-old spiritual elder of a tribe in the Amazon, would be the most profoundly personal film I would ever make, but it is.
In August of 2016, I was both humbled and honored to be one of a few Westerners to be initiated by Tatá himself, to learn the sacred spiritual teachings of the Yawanawá.
It was during this time deep in the jungle, Chief Tashka Yawanawá asked me to make a film about Tatá, their revered spiritual leader. Four months later, I found myself documenting the last days of his life. My first task was to record the final teachings as Tatá shared them from his deathbed.
It was a difficult and intimate time as both the students of Tatá, and the tribe itself, faced an uncertain future. He was the one man connected to life before the Western world. The one man who had single handedly brought them back to their own cultural and spiritual identity.
Following Tatá’s death, my relationship has continued to deepen with the tribe. I was invited to enter into the Yawanawá’s highest spiritual initiation, the Muká Dieta. In March of 2019, I completed the one-year, restrictive and disciplined study the Yawanawá traditionally believe will develop the spiritual power and knowledge of a Pajé. Today, as I work on final edits of this film, I share the honor of completing the study with only a few other Westerners around the globe. The seyás, prayers, songs and images in the film are deeply embedded in my own personal spiritual experience.
And so, with the deepest and most personal respect, it is my vision to create a film experience that is a sacred ceremony. I wish to do as I was asked. To open and share the unseen world of Tatá. It is a world of power and beauty, deeply connected with nature and the innate intelligence of the earth. I wish to uplift these courageous indigenous people who have so generously opened their tribe, teachings, and spirit to the Western world. And, I wish, above all, to honor one of the last true shamans of the Amazon: Tatá.
~ Directors and Film maker Jim Whitney
MEET THE FILMMAKERS
Jim has been a documentary film editor, director, producer and cinematographer for over 25 years. His work takes him to all corners of the globe as he focuses upon environmental and indigenous issues. Whitney’s recent films include: Sons of Africa, a moving story of the sons of two warring fathers – Uganda’s notorious Idi Amin and Tanzania’s revered Julius Nyerere and their peace climb up Mount Kilimanjaro, Bridgewalkers, a feature-length documentary about the global rise of the indigenous voice in North America, and The Seeds of Vandana Shiva, the biography of Indian eco-activist and Monsanto’s #1 public enemy, Vandana Shiva.
Tashka has served as Chief of the Yawanawá since 2001. Tashka and his wife Laura (Mixteca-Zapoteca) have worked to increase Yawanawá territory, reinvigorate Yawanawá culture, and establish economically and socially empowering relationships with the outside world. With other tribal leaders in the Amazon, he is working to restore dignity, identity and a sustainable economic future to indigenous populations, founded on their own values, culture and definition of prosperity. Tashka’s work as tribal chief has provided him with extensive experience in documentary film production, large scale events, writing and communications.
Matsini was one of the first to begin studying with Tatá from a very early age. As a Spiritual Leader and one of Tatá’s successors, he is guiding many young Yawanawá people as well as non-native people into the spiritual studies of the Yawanawá with a lot of care and dedication. Following a vision he founded a Spiritual Center in Mutum where people can study and learn about the many sacred medicines that are growing there. He has been walking this path for many decades and carries with him a lot of knowledge. He is firmly grounded in the Yawanawá culture, and as well embracing new ways of working. He loves music, story telling, and walks with a powerfully focused energy.
This project was made possible when director Jim Whitney and producer Amber Voiles had the immense honor of being initiated by Tatá Yawanawá. During one of the traditional shamanic ceremonies the tribal chief, Tashka Yawanawá, had a vision. He sat up from his hammock and said, “There needs to be a documentary about Tatá.” He explained that he’d missed the opportunity to document his father’s life, another great leader in their tribal history, and didn’t want the same to happen with Tatá. He knew it was now or never. And so the project was born. Over the next years, working with both Tashka and Matsini Yawanawà, one of Tatá’s successors, we were able to spend many months with the Yawanawá, documenting the tribe’s efforts to learn all they could from their beloved elder, right up to the final moment.
Amber holds a Bachelor in Fine Arts, Master in Fine Arts, is a NAMA-approved Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D in Transpersonal Psychology. She comes from an extensive movement and healing arts background, specializing in Restorative Yoga, Conscious Relaxation, and Meditation. Learn more at ambervoilesyoga.com/listen. She is the founder and president of The SOFIE Foundation.
Julian is the director of the recently awarded feature length documentary, Havana Skate Days, backed by Univision Communications and Fusion Media Group. Julian founded Veedro Films, a production house focusing on feature length and short form documentaries in English, Spanish and Portuguese. In addition to directing, editing and camera operating, he is the lead drone operator at Veedro.
Born in Berlin, spending most of his professional life in Hamburg and London, Chaouli settled in Los Angeles in 2004. He received his BS in Economics from the University of London and holds an MBA from the Cass Business School, City University in London. Ezra has an extensive background in real estate development, renewable energy investment, and venture capital funding. As sustainability is only achievable by reconnecting with nature, Chaouli’s pursuit is raising awareness in recognition that everything on our planet and the universe is interconnected.
After spending over 20 years working internationally in the financial services and technology industries in both technical and business roles, Josip has shifted his focus to being of service through nonprofit leadership, philanthropy, and his Life Transformation Coaching business, Walk Your Path®. He is an avid global traveler and loves immersing himself in new cultures, studying indigenous spiritual traditions, and practicing grounding and mindfulness through barefoot hiking.
Born in Marin County, California. and moved to Rio de Janeiro to live with her Brazilian mother at the age of 2. Her life has been divided between both cultures ever since—California and Brazil—and she feels blessed to have the best of both worlds. The Brazilian in her is where she feels deeply rooted to being passionately expressive; the Californian in her has allowed for the expansion of a greater sense of higher self.
Bia Russo is of Brazilian descent and is a Strategic Designer working mostly as a creativity instructor and researcher. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Factors from and a PhD in Emotional Design. Her work is about helping people reconnect with their own nature and express their identity and vision, and to make use of problem-solving design methodologies to tackle business problems in the most humane way. In her spare time, she plants organic food, takes care of the natural reserve she lives in, and studies medicinal plants.