El Movimiento

is a compelling cinematic essay about the complicated relationship of noted North American anthropologist William F. Hanks with his teacher, Don Chabo, a widely-known Yucatec Maya shaman. The film explores the relationship of Don Chabo with his apprentice, with three generations of his family and with the numerous and varied persons who come before his altar. Over the ten years of filming on location in southern Yucatan, Hanks evidences an increasing sense of responsibility and burden as Don Chabo's only apprentice. The film explores the line between ethnography and engagement, the visible and the invisible, what can be known and what cannot. Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. Completed: January 1, 2001. Video, color, sound. 116 minutes.

EL MOVIMIENTO is the representation of a collaboration between a shaman, an anthropologist and a filmmaker. It is built on a deep and specialized knowledge of Mayan-Franciscan religious practices, Spanish Colonial history, economic and political pressures impacting Yucatec Mayans at the end of the 20th century, the performance aspects of ritual, the uses of participatory camera, the multiple identities of a film subject, and the hopes, dramatic possibilities and limits of intercultural understanding. The film incorporates drawings, still photographs and film from special design cameras. Scenes range from Hanks and Don Chabo coming to terms with the contradictions of their relationship over the ten year period, to a woman who tries to hire Don Chabo to curse the person who beat her, to the exorcism of a young woman who had been kidnapped and then cursed by a Maya sorcerer. All this information and scholarly studies by William F. Hanks is contained in the Study Guide (click at left).

Peter Thompson

Selected Reviews

"A world premiere of the first feature by Peter Thompson, perhaps the most original and important Chicago filmmaker you never heard of, showing with one of his best shorts. Over a decade in the making, EL MOVIMIENTO (2003, 90 minutes) follows the relationship between Don Chabo, a Mayan shaman in Yucatan, and William F. Hanks, the Chicago anthropologist he improbably selected as his sole apprentice, showing how both men think, work, and dream. Thompson's skill as a poetic organizer and interpreter of disparate materials is even more apparent in his mysterious and provocative UNIVERSAL HOTEL (1986, 28 minutes), which tracks his detailed research into photographs of a freezing and thawing experiment in Dachau with a German prostitute and a Polish prisoner. Apart from offering fascinating glimpses into alternative medical practices, both films are profound meditations on the passage of time."

Jonathan Rosenbaum
Chicago Reader, January 16, 2004

"Nestled into this artfully honest film about shamanism in Yucatan, collaborative ethnography, and collaborative filmmaking, are the stories of three men: a healer, a researcher, and a documentarian, each of whom is both student and teacher to the others. Weighing professional goals against personal relationships, each develops a greater appreciation of his talents and his limitations. The awareness experienced by the participants magically extends to the viewer, for whom the fragility and strength of human relationships is evoked in the gently yet staunchly captured images, sound and unexpected drama."

Lisa Alspector
Chicago Reader movie critic prescreening review