Sam W. McFadden Presents ‘Curanderismo.’

The Summer Film Series at A/D/O Launches With a Trip Into the Peruvian Amazon.

On June 22, A/D/O will host the first in its summer series of film screenings. At 7pm, Sam W. McFadden will present his documentary short Curanderismo, filmed in the Peruvian city of Iquitos, a port on the Amazon and entrypoint to the jungle.

The Spanish verb curar means to heal; “curanderismo” might be translated as a system of healing — specifically, in the Peruvian jungle, it is most closely associated with the shamanic healing associated with jungle plants, especially the psychoactive vine ayahuasca. 

McFadden described his the difficulties of shooting in Iquitos: “There are no cars there, Iquitos is only accessible by air and water, so logistically this was quite challenging. [Taking] small boats and little tuktuks around the jungle.” With a crew of three, he spent ten days capturing the atmosphere of the jungle and the stories of the shamans with a stylistic approach that was a product of the project’s limitations as well as the desire to present the film from the perspective of an outsider. “I wanted it all locked off,” McFadden said. “Making the audience feel like they're looking through a window as opposed to being in the hands of someone else.”

Curanderismo closely follows four healers: Román Castillo Pérez, Adelita Navas Videyra, Elias Fernandez Tananta, and David “Slocum” Hewson. Pérez and Videyra are both lifelong traditional healers, while Tananta, a descendent of the indigenous Shipibo people, tells of his connection to the plant through his ancestry. Hewson, an artist who relocated from from North Carolina to the rainforest to study shamanic art, eventually founded the Amaru Spirit retreat in Iquitos. 

McFadden's interviews, which are woven throughout with footage of the traditional processing of ayahuasca, show the contrast between various perspectives on the plant, and where they diverge and meet. Videyra recalls being diagnosed with a terminal disease at age 11, and her recovery through her first experience of the plant. Hewson corroborated this part of the story: “There are some people with health issues, they go to Western medicine and take diagnostics, and it says there’s nothing wrong with them. But they know there’s something wrong.” He adds that others make the journey “to explore their consciousness.”

"As I gradually learnt more about plant medicine and the indigenous communities that practice it," McFadden recalled, "the premise of the film started to take shape." In comparing the the way in which much of the response to ayahuasca filters through Western representations, the shamans' "actual origins and roots get somehow lost. There is a tendency for things to get misrepresented or hijacked for commercial gain." 

With striking photography and soundtrack by Invisible Cities (DJs Luca C & Brigante) weaving through the healers' reflections and ruminations, the film was an Official Selection at the American Conservation Film Festival and a category winner at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival.

So, we had to know: did McFadden take ayahuasca when he was in Peru? 

“Fate seemed to step in the way as I was about to do a ceremony. So not yet. I did try another local medicine called kambo – which is frog poison and is burnt into your skin.” Similar, perhaps, to the experience of ayahuasca, the filmmaker found it a positive experience, but advised: “make sure you're with the right person.”


Stills courtesy Sam W. McFadden.

This screening is part of “Common Sense,” the second season of programming at A/D/O exploring the intersection of sensory perception and social structure.