Private Project

The Spirit of Tatá

At 103 years old, Tatá Yawanawá—one of the oldest shamans in the Amazon rainforest—was responsible for safeguarding his tribe’s spiritual legacy through the difficult years of colonization. Decades of interference by rubber tappers and missionaries brought the tribe to near extinction in the mid-1980s. When they made the decision to expel the missionaries, it was Tatá who led a revival of their cultural and spiritual practices—finally able to teach what he had kept secret in his heart all those years.

“The Spirit Of Tatá” 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. As his family and students keep vigil, we see Tatá continuing to share his teachings from his deathbed, hoping to ensure the transfer of knowledge to the next generation.

This story is emblematic of what is happening worldwide—Indigenous cultures losing their elders while struggling to recover and revive their ancient languages and traditions before they disappear. The film aims to wake up modern audiences to the inherent and vital need to preserve, protect, and support Indigenous peoples and their knowledge.

We invite you into a world of timelessness and beauty where the power of life is held in the plants, creatures, children, and elders—a world in danger of being lost forever.

  • James Whitney
    Notable works include "Sons of Africa," a profound narrative that interweaves the destinies of the offspring of Uganda's infamous Idi Amin and Tanzania's esteemed Julius Nyerere as they ascend Mount Kilimanjaro in a poignant quest for peace. Another standout feature, "Bridgewalkers," delves into the burgeoning influence of the indigenous voice in North America, providing stirring insights into their battle for recognition and respect. And "The Seeds of Vandana Shiva" brilliantly maps the journey of the iconic Indian eco-activist Vandana Shiva, a bold dissenter against Monsanto's agricultural domination.
  • Amber Voiles
  • James Whitney
  • Tashka Yawanawá, Chief of the Yawanawá
  • Matsini Yawanawá
  • James Whitney
  • Sergio Bloch
    Story Editor
  • Ezra Chaouli
    Executive Producer
  • Josip Markus
    Executive Producer
  • Sandy McLeod
    Executive Producer
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 25 minutes 1 second
  • Completion Date:
    September 1, 2023
  • Production Budget:
    200,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
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  • First-time Filmmaker:
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Director Biography - James Whitney

With over a quarter-century devoted to exploring the core of environmental and indigenous narratives, Jim Whitney has used his broad talents as a director, producer, cinematographer, and editor to amplify voices on the margins and spotlight critical issues. His storytelling lens has roamed the furthest corners of our planet, a testament to his unwavering dedication to these vital narratives.

His most recent and noteworthy works include "Sons of Africa," a deeply resonating tale weaving together the lives of the sons of two starkly contrasting fathers—Idi Amin, Uganda’s notorious dictator, and Julius Nyerere, Tanzania's esteemed leader—as they journey toward reconciliation and ascend Mount Kilimanjaro in search of peace.

"Bridgewalkers" is another powerful feature that charts the rising prominence and impact of the indigenous voice in North America. The film offers a deeply moving look into their ongoing struggle for recognition, respect, and the preservation of their cultural heritage.

In "The Seeds of Vandana Shiva," Whitney traces the resilient path of the renowned Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva as she bravely confronts and challenges the agricultural dominance of Monsanto. This tale of defiance exemplifies Whitney’s commitment to unearthing and shining a light on dynamic, often underrepresented stories, reflecting his enduring belief in the power of film to educate, illuminate, and inspire change.

Now, with his latest undertaking, "The Spirit of Tatá," Whitney embarks on a deeply personal and spiritually enriching journey, providing a rare glimpse into the life and legacy of Tatá, an Amazonian spiritual elder. This film serves as a testament to Whitney's passion for capturing the vibrancy and resilience of indigenous cultures and his dedication to sharing their wisdom with the world.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

As a Westerner, it would seem unlikely that a documentary about Tatá, a 103-year-old spiritual elder of a tribe in the Amazon, would be the most profoundly personal film I would ever make, but it is.

In August of 2016, I was both humbled and honored to be one of a few Westerners to be initiated by Tatá himself to learn the sacred spiritual teachings of the Yawanawá.

It was during this time, deep in the jungle, Chief Tashka Yawanawá asked me to make a film about Tatá, their revered spiritual leader. Four months later, I found myself documenting the last days of his life. My first task was to record the final teachings as Tatá shared them from his deathbed.

It was a difficult and intimate time as both the students of Tatá, and the tribe itself, faced an uncertain future. He was the one man connected to life before the Western world. The one man who had single-handedly brought them back to their own cultural and spiritual identity.

Following Tatá’s death, my relationship has continued to deepen with the tribe. I was invited to enter into the Yawanawá’s highest spiritual initiation, the Muká Dieta. In March of 2019, I completed the one-year, restrictive and disciplined study the Yawanawá traditionally believe will develop the spiritual power and knowledge of a Pajé. Today, as I work on the final edits of this film, I share the honor of completing the study with only a few other Westerners around the globe. The seyás, prayers, songs, and images in the film are deeply embedded in my own personal spiritual experience.

And so, with the deepest and most personal respect, it is my vision to create a film experience that is a sacred ceremony. I wish to do as I was asked—to open and share the unseen world of Tatá. It is a world of power and beauty, deeply connected with nature and the innate intelligence of the earth. I wish to uplift these courageous indigenous people who have so generously opened their tribe, teachings, and spirit to the Western world. And, I wish, above all, to honor one of the last true shamans of the Amazon: Tatá.


Throughout the making of this film, I have sought to honor and respect the unique privilege of documenting and sharing the life of an indigenous spiritual elder. My spiritual studies with the Yawanawá tribe have given me intimate access to this little-seen world. As mentioned, the chief of the tribe himself asked me to make this film while we were deep in the jungle, sharing sacred time together.

And so, this personal connection with Tatá, with his family, with the territory of the Yawanawá and the entire tribe, has given me a great responsibility to make this film, about my own spiritual teacher, with enormous sensitivity.

And so, as much as possible, this film has been made in deep and profound collaboration with the tribe. Tashka Yawanawá, the chief of the tribe, and Matsini Yawanawá, my current spiritual teacher and Tata’s protege, serve as Co-Producers. They have both given access to personal footage ("home videos") of their time with Tatá. Nani Yawanawá, a Muká initiate and student of Tatá’s, has helped with the translations of the ancient Yawanawá language spoken by Tatá (which only a few can now translate). Many of Tatá’s students and family have given their time and support over the years (from loading my camera gear on boats to sharing themselves in on-camera interviews).

Additionally, the sensitive nature of events (sacred teachings and initiations) and the intimate setting of Tatá’s last days have meant obtaining the tribe’s consent and permission to share these personal moments with the outside world. The final edit will have the approval and blessings from our Yawanawá collaborators.

Lastly, the Yawanawá themselves will be integral to the representation and distribution of the film, appearing whenever possible at screenings or on social media. Upon its release, any of the profits will be returned to the tribe.