The Wind and the Water

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Sundance Film Festival

PARK CITY -- Films about indigenous cultures being absorbed by urban civilization are nothing new. Satyajit Ray told a story about a rural family transformed by their move to the big city in "The Apu Trilogy" 50 years ago. But the story is given a fresh slant in a rare film from Panama competing in the world dramatic category at Sundance.

"The Wind and the Water" was written and directed by Vero Bollow and members of the Igar Yala Collective, an acting and filmmaking group based on an Indian preserve in Panama.

Members of the Kuna Yala tribe live on small islands, apart from the Spanish-speaking majority in Panama City. Yet their way of life is threatened by modern development, and the film examines this displacement by following two young people -- Rosy (Yirelis Adjani Smith) and Machi (Benjamin Avila G) -- who move from their island home to the sprawling metropolis.

Rosy has lived there all her life; she is a typical teenager who dreams of being a fashion model. Her father works for a large corporation that wants to build luxury hotels on the islands. Machi grew up on the islands with his great-uncle (Ologwagdi), a fisherman. But when he moves to Panama City to live with some relatives who have relocated, he and Rosy cross paths.

On one level the film is a love story of these two people brought up in radically different universes, but it's also a portrait of two clashing cultures that may not be able to co-exist. The filmmakers do an excellent job of capturing the parameters of both worlds.

The cinematography by Petra Korner freezes the idyllic life on the islands, but the scenes in Panama City are equally vivid. The film draws telling contrasts between the slums where Machi's family lives and the more upscale environment that Rosy and her family inhabit.

Initially Rosy, who revels in typical teenage partying, is disdainful of Machi, but when she returns to the islands for the funeral of the grandfather she never met, she gains a newfound appreciation for her own heritage, and she is more drawn to Machi. Their developing relationship is affecting, though the film probably could use a stronger narrative in order to connect with American audiences.

The ending is appropriately unresolved, considering that the process of cultural assimilation and destruction is ongoing. "Wind and the Water" is not an earth-shattering film, but it replays a familiar story in a novel setting and achieves a lyrical intensity. The picture should have a long life on the festival circuit.

THE WIND AND THE WATER
Igar Yala Collective
Credits:
Director-screenwriters-editors: Vero Bollow, Igar Yala Collective
Producer: Vero Bollow
Director of photography: Petra Korner
Music: Christopher Anderson-Bazzoli
Co-producer: Miguel Sanchez
Cast:
Machi: Benjamin Avila G
Rosy: Yirelis Adjani Smith
Great-uncle: Ologwagdi
Running time -- 100 minutes
No MPAA rating
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