It’s not often I get to provide an insider viewpoint when I’m reviewing a documentary but this time I do. I was fortunate enough to experience the ceremony myself and since I’m a filmmaker too, I have unique insight to share with relation to both the experience and the documentary portraying it, so here we go…
Ayahuasca: Vine of the Soul provides an overview into the ceremony conducted by shaman using a drink brewed from the ayahuasca plant. The plant is protected by the South American government and is seen as a national treasure, kind of the opposite how the US regards plants like this and marijuana which fall into the same category as heroin in the government’s eyes.
The documentary follows several people going through the ceremony and focuses a bit on their lives both prior to the ceremony and after it. People have different reasons for trying the medicine (in circles close to it, the plant is referred to as a medicine) including addiction, self-esteem issues, traumas from their past, as well as wanting to see the face of God, among many other reasons. In terms of it being medicinal, it’s also being used for cancer treatment and other physical ailments.
The presentation of the film is done pretty well. My only complaint are the production tricks like some of the transitions they use for example that are used to make the film feel “trippy” at times. There’s no way to capture visually what happens when deep in the process and visual production effects make the film feel cheapened as a result. The ceremony is typically done in the dark, night filters are used which gives the night shots a green, alien kind of feeling which again kind of makes it feel a little hokey. These distractions diminish the important, underlying messages about the experience at times but luckily the message is still there (just disregard the cheesy parts).
It’s interesting to see the transformations some people go through, it’s not for everyone and you need to be open to it. Most of the people featured in the doc seem to be receptive to it in different ways. They each get different messages and lessons to go through in varying degrees, sometimes nothing happens at all, it’s all dependent on the person. The shaman plays a central role in the process and is instrumental in guiding the journey so there are various factors that influence the overall experience.
If you have an interest in shamanism, as well as spiritual and mental exploration and development, this documentary is definitely worth a viewing.
reviewed by Sean McKnight