There’s a story in each wrinkle, a dignity in aging. The face of Yucatecan midwife and herbalist, Bacila Tzek Uc, expresses a history of hands-on work. Delivering babies, massaging mothers, washing dishes – there’s power in women’s work, because work gives purpose to life.
I met Bacila nearly five years ago, and we became close friends, each of us fascinated with the other. Soon after, she asked me to write her story, hyper-aware of the reality that she is the last midwife in her lineage.
She told me clearly, “I didn’t get the opportunity to learn to read and write, but you did, now it’s up to you to save my knowledge.” Captivated by her charisma, I told her, “No, I can’t write your story. It’s much better if you tell it.” And so, the idea for the documentary was born.
The living Maya have never been empowered to speak for themselves on an international stage. As an anthropologist, that’s exactly what I set out to change when I conceptualized Jats’uts Meyah. Unlike a typical documentary, you’ll hear from no experts or academics. In Jats’uts Meyah, 100% of the screen time is dedicated to empowering the people – especially the women – of Yaxhachén to represent themselves.
Jats’uts Meyah means “beautiful labor,” a play on words, dignifying the beauty of labor in everyday life and nodding to the spectacular beauty of labor through childbirth. When we talk about indigenous cultures, we are talking about global heritage: invaluable human knowledge. The film’s intentions are to raise consciousness and conserve sustainable indigenous practices.
Our film is particularly revolutionary, though, because we have decided to release it independently, outside of the eye of the industry, a lot like the way Bacila lives her life. For me, it’s important that as many people as possible see the film, not that the film wins some particular awards. It’s about the activism – the conversations that will come out of it.
The cinema allows us to teach people from home, from all parts of the globe – showing, not telling. Her story on the screen is validation for everyone who looks or talks like Bacila, and for the rest of the world it’s awareness: a change in thought patterns; it’s an opening to an idea about a different way of living, especially in a time of global crisis.
The process of making something like this is very personal; it takes a long time and requires a deep emotional commitment. I had to give myself whole-heartedly to the process, just like Bacila. I never thought that I would find the money to make this film. The project sat on my shelf, covered in dust, until I sent an unsolicited email to Yucatán Today, over three years ago. The magazine published an article about Bacila, renewing my commitment to the story.
Hundreds of people came together to make this film over the course of nearly two years. I am so grateful for each one of you; I hope you’re proud.
As the audience, you’ll feel empowered to make your own interpretations. You’ll probably need to watch it twice. And hopefully, after watching, you’ll find yourself deep in reflection. Start a conversation about it; tell a friend to watch it. Together, we can ensure that Bacila gets the global audience she deserves.
Join us on May 20 at 7 pm as the film makes its global premiere online. You’ll be able to buy or rent the film on Vimeo OnDemand, a platform designed for independent filmmakers. Look on Spotify for the original soundtrack – a journey through time, deep into the heart of Yucatán.
In true Yucatán Today spirit, watching the film is a form of travel. But something tells me that this trip is just beginning: we are going very, very far.
EDITORIAL NOTE: This documentary has been removed from video platforms and social media as it has been submitted at film festivals.
Photography by Amanda Strickland for its use in Yucatán Today
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