DER Documentary

Ika Hands

by Robert Gardner
color, 58 min, 1988




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This 2008 Special Edition DVD includes:

  • • The film Ika Hands (58 minutes) preview
  • • A conversation with Octavio Paz (27 minutes) preview
  • • Photo gallery featuring still images and journal entries read by Robert Gardner (14 minutes)

About the film:
In the highlands of Northern Columbia the Ika live a strenuous and isolated life, economically dependent on small gardens and a handful of domestic animals. They are thought to be descendants of the Maya who fled from the turmoil of Central American High Civilization’s warring states to the remote valleys of Colombia’s Sierra Nevadas. The Ika still inhabit a spectacular but demanding terrain extending between five and fifteen thousand feet, an almost vertical geography through which they move with prodigious ease.

Their lives are filled with a multitude of tasks, which they perform with a rare dexterity and purpose. Their labors, though they belong to two quite separate realms - the practical and the spiritual - contribute equally to the well being of everyone. Both days and nights are long and arduous. Indeed, the central figure in Ika Hands, Mama Marco, is a man whose priestly calling is simply another career undertaken in addition to that of farmer and householder.

Ika society is the result of quite distinct cultural choices, of what seem to have been decisions by generations of individuals to persevere with tradition and to resist the compelling alternatives offered by a ubiquitous modernity.

About the conversation with Octavio Paz
On Jan. 19, 1983, Robert Gardner was in Octavio Paz's library on the Paseo de la Reforma to talk about film and anthropology. With them was Robert Fulton who had come with Gardner to work on a long neglected film about Paz himself, a film that never materialized but of which this occasion and several other such scenes remain.

At this moment, Gardner was finishing Ika Hands. He wanted it to be about shamanism or at least the kind of magical practices for which the Ika were known. Going to Mexico to visit Paz was in tune with his belief in Paz as a person closer to being a shaman himself than anyone else he knew.

The idea was to invite Paz into the Ika world and also into his own concerns about how to represent that world: what can images tell us? Gardner hoped to do this by showing Paz parts of an early version of the film he was editing. The ensuing twenty odd minutes is the result of that experiment.

Visit Robert Gardner's personal website: www.robertgardner.net.


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