2012: The True Mayan Prophecy (www.2012thetruemayanprophecy.com). This thoughtful independent film by Dawn Engle was an undertaking of the Peace Jam Foundation, an organization based in Denver, Colorado, that connects Nobel laureates with students. Excitement over 2012, and the current period of “disordered time” (which was predicted to last from 1992 to 2032, we learn), are used as an opening for Nobel Peace Prize winner and Guatemalan human rights advocate Rigoberta Menchú and a council of Maya elders to offer viewers a Maya perspective: “Our sacred Mayan calendar is acquiring an extraordinary importance for the planet,” says Menchu before offering positive courses of action that we can follow. She is joined by no less than the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu, who also talk about ways out of the current period of hate, violence, and negativity.
Apocalypto (2006). This film is not about 2012, but it suggests a metaphor between current chaos and the collapse of the Classic Maya period, when this film takes place. Producer Mel Gibson spent $40 million to visually re-create the ancient Maya world, where this action-adventure-drama is set. It was filmed in Mexico, at Catemaco, San Andrés Tuxtla, and Paso de Ovejas in Veracruz. The viewer races through the forest with Jaguar Paw, a young Maya captured for sacrifice who is trying to save his family. Along the way, we see a brutal, gory snapshot of an empire in decline. Critics call it inaccurate and even racist, the old “brutal savage” stereotype that reflects badly on modern Maya. Although there are several historical and archaeological inaccuracies (or liberties), the film gets many details right, especially the language—the whole film is in spoken Yucatec Mayan from that age, reconstructed by linguists and archaeologists. If you’d rather skip the bloody, heart-wrenching (literally) parts of Apocalypto, you should still watch the first 10 minutes for a glimpse of idyllic Maya village life.
Cracking the Maya Code (2004). Everything by NOVA on the Maya is worth watching. This fascinating hour-long documentary, based on Michael Coe’s 1999 book Breaking the Maya Code, “chronicles the 200-year worldwide quest by linguists, mathematicians, artists, architects, archaeologists, and others to decipher the Maya hieroglyphs.” It focuses on the Maya’s system of glyphs, explaining their meaning as both symbols and phonetic sounds.
Dawn of the Maya (2008). This National Geographic documentary tells about recent breakthroughs in scientists’ thoughts on the Preclassic Maya. It focuses on discoveries made at El Mirador, in far northern Guatemala, and also Palenque.
© Josh Berman from Moon Maya 2012