Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth

(Herz des Himmels, Herz der Erde)
(Germany, 2011, 98 mins, Blu-ray Disc)
In Spanish, Mayan with English subtitles


Only a few weeks ago, news broke that a 2,300 year old Mayan temple in Belize had been flattened by a construction company for use as roadfill. Sadly this story is nothing new. The location of the world’s largest—possibly toxic—gold-mine pit (operated by Vancouver’s own Goldcorp), Guatemala is also the homeland of the Maya and their decidedly holistic cosmology. Frauke Sandig and Eric Black’s kaleidoscopically beautiful documentary follows the daily and ceremonial lives of six articulate young Maya as they struggle to maintain their way of life in the face of twenty first century economic imperatives.

"The filmmakers attempt to capture a worldview. In their documentary, Chepita and other young present-day Maya speak in their own words without commentary. The filmmakers were in Guatemala and Mexico for more than a year, time to build the deep trust and intimacy required to participate in everyday life and sacred rituals. They brought along their curiosity and understanding. They let the Maya’s statements stand on their own and leave their questions open. Powerful images of nature are overlaid with the words from the creation myth, handed down through generations in the Popol Vuh, the holy book of the Maya.Giant tortoises come out of the sea to bury their eggs in the sand. The moon plays with the clouds, the shadows with the light.

The directors use our doomsday fantasy to give the contemporary Maya a voice. They in turn explain how they see the world and the real problems that threaten our devastation. Their analysis seems not unreasonable. What prevails today, they say, is another crisis much like the one that brought the collapse of their ancient Mayan civilization. Everyone wanted to amass more wealth; only the natural resources ran out. The ‘system’ is again reaching its limit. The result is, as one Maya says in the film, ’The era of the people of the corn is coming to an end.’”Sebastian Erb, Die Taz

"Of course one cannot simply reverse European history and the creation of the “Self”, which is also tied to liberation from the forces of nature. But one can empathize with a philosophy that does not separate the individual from nature. This different relationship to nature is better described with pictures than with words. Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth does exactly this, with clouds that glow from within, rivers with power one can sense, or mountains, which exude an inner peace. The camerawork creates settings that inspire fascination in a hitherto unknown world."

Peter Gutting, kino-zeit

"It is an exquisitely, achingly beautiful film – wonderfully conceived and sensitively filmed. I particularly appreciated the references to ancestral dreams and memories, sequences that ring truer than any film I’ve ever seen on Maya spirituality… The sequences on the war were particularly poignant. One of the communities I lived in for 6 months was completely wiped out—I still don’t know if anyone survived. It is my sincerest hope that some lived to tell their stories like the wonderful people in this film. What strikes me is the resilience of the Maya in the face of powerful and concerted efforts to destroy or alter it. I was profoundly affected by this film and will carry many of its images with me to the end of my days."

Allen J. Christenson, Author of Popul Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Maya