A documentary film project
...About an Amazonian shaman…
...A tribe’s efforts to learn all they can from their dying elder...
...and a celebration of the extraordinary life and spirit of Tata.
How this film was made possible
This project was made possible when director Jim Whitney and producer Amber Voiles had the immense honor of being initiated by Tatá Yawanawá. During this shamanic initiation the tribal chief, Tashka Yawanawá, had a vision. He sat up from his hammock and said, “There needs to be a documentary about Tatá.” He explained that he’d missed the opportunity to document his father’s life, another great leader in their tribal history, and didn’t want the same to happen with Tatá. He knew it was now or never. And so the project was born. Over the next year, working with both Tashka and Matsini Yawanawà, one of Tatá’s successors, we were able to spend many months with the Yawanawá, documenting the tribe’s efforts to learn all they could from their beloved elder, right up to the final moment.
Meet the filmmakers
Tashka Yawanawá (Co-Director/Producer)
has served as Chief of the Yawanawá since 2001. Tashka and his wife Laura (Mixteca-Zapoteca) have worked to increase Yawanawá territory, reinvigorate Yawanawá culture, and establish economically and socially empowering relationships with the outside world. With other tribal leaders in the Amazon, he is working to restore dignity, identity and a sustainable economic future to indigenous populations, founded on their own values, culture and definition of prosperity. Tashka’s work as tribal chief has provided him with extensive experience in documentary film production, large scale events, writing and communications.
Matsini Yawanawá (Co-Producer)
Matsini was one of the first to begin studying with Tatá from a very early age. As Tatá's successor and Spiritual Leader of the the Yawanawá, he is guiding many young Yawanawá people as well as non-native people into the spiritual studies of the Yawanawá with a lot of care and dedication. He is in full support of the women walking the spiritual path as well. Following a vision he founded a Spiritual Center in Mutum where people can study and learn about the many sacred medicines that are growing there. He has been walking this path for many decades and carries with him a lot of knowledge. He is firmly grounded in the Yawanawá culture, and as well embracing new ways of working. He loves music, story telling, and walks with a powerfully focused energy.
Jim Whitney (Co-Director/Producer)
A documentary film editor, director, producer and cinematographer for over 25 years. His work takes him to all corners of the globe as he focuses upon environmental and indigenous issues. Whitney’s recent films include: Sons of Africa, a moving story of the sons of two warring fathers - Uganda’s notorious Idi Amin and Tanzania’s revered Julius Nyerere and their peace climb up Mount Kilimanjaro, Bridgewalkers, a feature-length documentary about the global rise of the indigenous voice in North America, and The Seeds of Vandana Shiva, the biography of Indian eco-activist and Monsanto’s #1 public enemy, Vandana Shiva.
Amber Voiles (Producer)
Holds a BFA, MFA, is a NAMA-approved Ayurvedic Wellness Counselor, and comes from an extensive movement and healing arts background, specializing in Restorative Yoga, Conscious Relaxation, and Meditation. In addition, she has worked in film for over 20 years, bridging the worlds of healing and storytelling. Last summer Voiles had the profound honor of being initiated by pajé Tata Yawanawá, deep in the Amazon Rainforest. She is the President of The SOFIE Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to the preservation of indigenous wisdom, and currently lives in Los Angeles, California.
Julian Mora-Busquets (Editor/Cinematographer)
Is the director of the recently awarded feature length documentary, Havana Skate Days, backed by Univision Communications and Fusion Media Group. Julian founded Veedro Films, a production house focusing on feature length and short form documentaries in English, Spanish and Portuguese. In addition to directing, editing and camera operating, he is the lead drone operator at Veedro.
Bia Russo (Associate Producer)
Bia Russo is of Brazilian descent and is a Strategic Designer working mostly as a creativity instructor and researcher. She holds a Master's degree in Human Factors from and a PhD in Emotional Design. Her work is about helping people reconnect with their own nature and express their identity and vision, and to make use of problem-solving design methodologies to tackle business problems in the most humane way. In her spare time, she plants organic food, takes care of the natural reserve she lives in, and studies medicinal plants.
Ezra Chaouli (Executive Producer)
Born in Berlin, spending most of his professional life in Hamburg and London, Chaouli settled in Los Angeles in 2004. He received his BS in Economics from the University of London and holds an MBA from the Cass Business School, City University in London. Ezra has an extensive background in real estate development, renewable energy investment, and venture capital funding. As sustainability is only achievable by reconnecting with nature, Chaouli’s pursuit is raising awareness in recognition that everything on our planet and the universe is interconnected.
Bianca Malott (Associate Producer)
Born in Marin County, California. and moved to Rio de Janeiro to live with her Brazilian mother at the age of 2. Her life has been divided between both cultures ever since – California and Brazil – and she feels blessed to have the best of both worlds. The Brazilian in her is where she feels deeply rooted to being passionately expressive; the Californian in her has allowed for the expansion of a greater sense of higher self.
About The Spirit of Tatá
Tatá, at 103 years-old, was one of the oldest shamans in the Amazon and was responsible for safeguarding the tribe’s spiritual legacy through the difficult years of colonization and interference by the rubber tappers and missionaries. Reaching near extinction in the mid-1980s, the Yawanawá decided to expel the missions and it was Tatá who helped to lead a revival of their cultural and spiritual practices, taking on apprentices and students to learn the legends, ceremonies, music, healing ways and sacred plant knowledge that had been kept secret in the hearts and minds of a small handful of shamans and elders during the mission period.
THE SPIRIT OF TATA follows Tatá’s final days—a historic and challenging moment for the tribe as they face losing their beloved elder and greatest living library of spiritual knowledge and power. Surrounded by the ongoing vigil of his family and students, we witness Tatá continuing to share his teachings from his death bed - hoping to ensure the transfer of traditional knowledge to the next generation. This story is emblematic of a story happening around the world—the story of cultures losing their elders while struggling to recover and revive their ancient languages and traditions before they are lost forever. The film aims to wake up modern audiences to the inherent and vital need to preserve, protect and support the continuation of indigenous peoples and knowledge for the sake of all life on earth.