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Tarahumara culture leaps to life on screen

Headline Photo
Photo courtesy of Nina Welch

The Tarahumara, clad in traditional garb, star in a documentary at the Screening Room Friday night at 7. The event is part of a fund-raiser for a future movie about a Tarahumaran woman's experiences living in the United States.

By Justine Pechuzal

Thursday October 18, 2001

Tucson moviegoers get a glimpse into the life of the Tarahumara Indians, an indigenous culture of Copper Canyon, Mexico. The tribe will appear not in the canyon, but on the screen in Kathryn Ferguson's documentary "The Unholy Tarahumara".

The screening is part of "Fandango Speaks," an evening of poetry, art and film. The event is sponsored by Fandago 8, an eight-member Tucson writers' group.

Nina Welch, a University of Arizona media arts senior and member of Fandango, helped organize the screening.

Ferguson's interest in the Tarahumara began nearly three decades ago during a trip to Copper Canyon. Upon realizing that she was lost, Ferguson asked a stranger on the road if she could camp on his property. The man, Chogito, was the local governor of the Tarahumara. From this chance encounter, a lasting friendship formed with both Chogito and the Tarahumara.

"The Unholy Tarahumara" explores a diminishing culture encroached upon by tourists, television and Western influences. However, Ferguson's response to the loss of cultural identity is not the typical dismay.

"The change in lifestyle is inevitable," she said. "It's the way the world lives. These people don't want help - they want to live."

The increase of tourism in Copper Canyon creates a dependent relationship with positive and negative ramifications for the native people. Ferguson questions whether it is the Western tourist or the Tarahumara encouraging the preservation of traditional culture.

"The Unholy Tarahumara" follows the story of two Tarahumara families dealing with the change in lifestyle as one family attempts to preserve tradition, and the other struggles to modernize.

Response to the film has been enthusiastic -"The Unholy Tarahumara" has screened at 12 different film festivals and received numerous awards.

The screening of "The Unholy Tarahumara" at "Fandango Speaks" is intended to raise money for Ferguson's latest documentary, "Walking Woman," which is currently in production stages and should be released in two years. The Fandango 8 also contributed poetry to "Walking Woman."

An art exhibit of portraits of the group members, painted by Fandago member Amber Van Hatala, a UA studio arts senior, is included in the event. The women will also read from their new chapbook, a self-published collection of poetry and prose.

Funding is crucial to progress in independent films, a reality Ferguson knows well. "The Unholy Tarahumara" was in the works for five years due to financial struggles.

"Funding comes from every source I can possibly find - the media, private sources or grants," Ferguson said.

The collaboration of "Fandango Speaks" is the result of a friendship between Welch and Ferguson. The artists met while reviewing films for the Arizona Film Festival several years ago.

"I like that (Ferguson) is into indigenous people and telling what they are about. She has a creative way to put out truth in a documentary," Welch said.

Ferguson enjoys working in the documentary format, which she considers an art form that relates creatively to real life. Documentary is a powerful educational tool, and in this case, Tucsonans have the opportunity to learn about a fascinating neighboring culture.

"They (Tarahumara) wanted their story to be told," Ferguson said.

"Fandango Speaks," featuring the screening of "The Unholy Tarahumara," is Friday night at 7 at the Screening Room at 127 E. Congress St. Tickets are available at the door for $8, or $7 in advance through Readers' Oasis and Antigone Books.


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