For information on ‘Mayan Blue’ visit mayanbluefilm.com/
“Mayan Blue” is an atypical Georgia film. Most of the crew either come from or live in North Georgia, yet the film was shot entirely in Guatemala and features an abundance of breathtaking underwater cinematography.
The chronicle of discovering, excavating and studying Samabaj, an underwater, pre-classical Mayan city underneath Lake Atitlan, drives the film from scene to scene. Anyone interested in Mayan culture, archaeology or history will find the process fascinating.
However, the imagery will captivate anyone who appreciates great cinematography or beauty.
Many of the shots play out like they are discoveries of their own. We are presented with a stunning composition, seen through a camera floating so steadily and slowly it becomes hypnotic. And before we know it, the camera has revealed a surprising detail that captures part of the film’s story.
During one scene, viewers swim through an underwater cave full of stalagmites, stalactites and other captivating formations. The light is bent and refracted by the tidal movements of the water and reflects off the porous walls and floor of the cave.
It is as stunning an image as we will find in the most dazzling Hollywood film, and it was created the old-fashioned way — a camera operated by someone with an artistic eye.
Long into the shot, some objects become noticeable resting on a huge, smooth boulder. They are not part of the structure of the cave. The photographer finally gets us close enough we recognize the objects as two skulls.
The cave was once used in ritual sacrifices, and these are the bones of two sacrificial victims, unmoved for hundreds or thousands of years.
This is how much of the film plays out. As we hear the story of the discovery of Samabaj, filmmakers take us on a series of smaller but equally fascinating visual discoveries. We feel we are there with the explorers investigating this incredibly rare, unbelievably rich site seemingly at the very moment of discovery.
As the documentary progresses, the filmmakers interweave Mayan cosmology into the story, especially the creation story recorded in the Popol Vuh.
This conclusion is still the subject of debate, but Samabaj might very well be one of the most important sites in Mayan history and culture. The film makes a strong case the underwater city is one of the origin sites described in the Mayans’ most sacred text.
Much has been made of the supposed prediction of the end of the world in the Mayan calendar. “Mayan Blue” addresses this part of the mythology — the filmmakers couldn’t ignore it altogether — but it doesn’t dwell on it.
More important in this film is pondering the significance of Samabaj in Mayan myth and our collective cultural history.
“Mayan Blue” is working its way through the festival circuit. Watch for it to come to our area or to home video.
Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and at gainesvilletimes.com/getout.