Kanarta: Alive in Dreams

Sebastian and Pastora live in a Shuar village in the Upper Amazonia of Ecuador. Sebastian is not only a respected healer, but also a medicinal botanist who experiments with unknown plants he encounters in the forest. His unique practice seeks to cultivate new knowledge, reconnecting him with his ancestors. Pastora is one of the rare female leaders in Amazonia, who struggles to negotiate with local authorities for her community. With powerful plants such as ayahuasca, they revive and energise their perceptions of the future. These plants allow them to acquire power and a faith to cope with the obstacles they now face, given that their lives have been irreversibly affected by the modern state system. The alert eyes of the filmmaker, embodied in the drifting camera, creates a distinctive field of personal story-telling, inviting the viewers into the unique sensory experience of the life in Amazonia, where truths, meanings and images flow and take unpredictable shapes.

KANARTA: ALIVE IN DREAMS is a hybrid documentary film that draws inspirations from cinéma-vérité, direct cinema, road movie and video art, while solidly based on long-term ethnographic research.

  • Akimi Ota
  • Sebastian Tsamarain
    Key Cast
  • Pastora Tanchima
    Key Cast
  • Akimi Ota
  • Akimi Ota
  • Martin Salomonsen
    Sound Desiner
  • Aline Biz
    Colour Grader
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Experimental, Feature, Student
  • Genres:
    Drama, Environmental, Amazonia, Ecological, Visual Anthropology, Ethnographic Film
  • Runtime:
    2 hours
  • Completion Date:
    December 9, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    30,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United Kingdom
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  • Language:
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  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Akimi Ota

Akimi Ota was born and grew up in Tokyo, Japan. He lived in different countries throughout his life, including the Netherlands, France, United Kingdom, Ecuador and Peru, which made him polyglot, granting him an ability to move between radically different cultures and merge into local lives. After studying cross-cultural studies, an interdisciplinary programme in Kobe University which allowed him to study contemporary philosophy, art theories and cultural studies, he moved to Paris and acquired his master's degree in social anthropology from the EHESS. His filmmaking career started with his PhD project in visual anthropology at the University of Manchester. He stayed in the Amazonian rainforest for 13 months with indigenous people called Shuar, and enquire about their knowledge of medicinal plants, everyday life and struggles. In 2020, he made his debut feature documentary film "Kanarta" based on this experience.

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Director Statement

The idea of producing this film, KANARTA, came out of my spiritual trauma following the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear disaster that happened in 2011. As someone from Tokyo who had been supplied with electricity generated at Fukushima, I started to question my existence as a human being - specifically as a city dweller - who consumes, exploits and destroys the land and lives of vulnerable people and other living-beings without even knowing about them. I suddenly realised that I had no awareness of the relationship I had with the environment in which I dwell and even, in fact, that I had been unaware of this ignorance. I recognised that we needed new forms of expression in order to cultivate a changed sensibility towards how we understand the relationship between ourselves and the environment.

I say new forms, as it appears not enough for us to know the fact that the Amazonian rainforest is burning, that Arctic glaciers are melting, or how many species are being extinguished each day in order for us to transform our ways of being in this world. We need to learn not only the facts and figures, but also an empathy and sensibility that strives towards, what I call, an art of relating.

This film is a collective love letter to the rainforest, a mental journey and a story of friendship, disguised as a documentary film. It is impossible to list all the incidents and hardships I endured during its making, including a death threat following a profound misunderstanding, encounters with dangerous wild animals as well as innumerable scars caused by unrelenting insect bites.

Originally conceived as an academic film, the budget was meagre and I was mostly the only member of crew. While some people might consider these conditions as a disadvantage, I experimented with the potential this offered to the full, which is represented within the cinematography and the aesthetics of the film. Indeed, filmmakers such as Jean Rouch, Wang Bing, Jonas Mekas or Kazuhiro Soda maintain extremely small-scale crews for good reason. I firmly believe that the value and quality of a film are not determined by the budget, but rather the depth of immersion and devotion. I believe that this film not only validates this approach, but also tells its own distinctive story of a hidden art of relating to nature, which has rarely been expressed despite the growing list of documentary films on Amazonia.

AKIMI OTA, Director