The road of Yemanja....
While roads in the Candomblé tradition refer to the specific "caminho" or aspect of devotees' Orixá or spiritual guide, I reflect on the road our film has taken this year.
The year began with a wonderful screening event in San Francisco, CA during Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations and our ally Rachel Elizabeth Harding speaking with the film to a large gathering at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
Yet the greatest moments of the year, and perhaps the life of the film so far, were two outstanding screenings under the stars in Bahia, leading up to the annual Festa de Yemanjá on February 2. The presentations were sponsored in part by the City of Salvador which meant (among other things) our film was finally embraced by the formal "powers that be" in the place where the film was conceived and created. Axé!
North American friends sponsored our travel expenses and shipping the photography exhibit, "Goddesses of Nature". We are so blessed to have this support.
The first of two consecutive events took place on January 31 at Espaço Cultural Barroquinha. This space was formerly a church known as Barroquinha, which is considered the cradle of the matriarchal essence of Candomblé, with a permanent altar to Oxúm guarding our work. Our photography looked beautiful inside the cultural center's theatre space, a sanctuary in times past. The film was projected outdoors, under the full moon, on the eve of Bahia's Carnavale. The energy was high! People arrived late, as is the way in Brazil, and technical issues arose, making a North American filmmaker very nervous. Yet of course, all was well in the end. Very engaged conversations followed the film with tourists and locals, old friends and new acquaintances. It was coming full circle. One month shy of 21 years from my first visit to Bahia when I first laid eyes on an image of the Boa Morte Sisters, including a Mãe Filhinha, our film's eldest matriarch, in a poster in a friend's apartment. Had I known then that it would take a lifetime to manifest an idea born in that moment, I might have "run away!" as associate director/editor Donna Read counsels anyone considering taking on a documentary project...unless, that is, you must do the work. It was my destiny. I am so glad I followed the road that called!
The second screening took place in a historic family neighborhood called Santo Antonio do Carmo, in a public square, where families mingle at sunset, youngsters riding bikes and couples strolling. There was a more diverse and larger group that night...standing room only...with free popcorn provided by the city...some of the best I've had! I overheard people working with the City of Salvador saying how beautiful the film was, the importance of the message of the women in the film. These neighborhood screenings were part of the Cinema na Praça program. Cinema in the Park. I kept thinking how the film could show in so many neighborhoods to help dispel misunderstandings about Candomblé. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions there and in North America about Afro-indigenous spiritual traditions. As Casa Branca leader Ekedy Sinha says in our film, "It's ignorance"...we fear what we don't understand. That has always been my goal in Brazil, that our film help clarify misunderstandings. Apparently it is fulfilling this objective. Brazilians often tell me how much they learn from our film about their own country, their culture.
The bonus was participating in two Festas de Yemanjá in big city Salvador and the next week in Cachoeira by the Paraguaçu River. I realize I prefer the small town version. I also had the chance to meet with two of our film's "stars" Ekedy Sinha and Makota Valdina to share stories of our film's journey and hopes for the future. Among the best moments in Cachoeira was encountering a gorgeous mural of Mãe Filhinha! (Photos below)
In the early spring, an Atlanta-area cultural group presented our film at a public library, with a deeply compelling post-screening panel discussion. I had the good fortune of being there unexpectedly due to a last-minute family visit coinciding with the screening. Then we participated in a Lusosphere Symposium at University of Pittsburgh, a rare chance to show the film without leaving town! Next was the "Beloved Symposium" at University of Albany, NY, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the publication of "Beloved" by author Toni Morrison who had attended the University. Our film and discussion opened a two-day event with distinguished scholars from Howard University, in Washington, D.C. (Dr. Nikki Taylor) and other universities. Finally, the spring season closed with a special screening at University of California Santa Barbara. What a magnificent city where the mountains meet the sea, and blessed with the eternal presence of Santa Barbara/Oya/Iansá .
Our next major screening is in Toronto on November 2 at the Parliament of the World's Religions. What an honor it will be to share our film at such a distinguished gathering! We continue working toward completing the Spanish version of the film, with sights on a debut in Havana at Casa de Africa.
Donna Roberts, Producer/director, Yemanjá