A rare feature film about present-day Mayan culture, Ixcanul is a bracing modern fable set amongst the coffee-planted slopes of a Guatemalan volcano. Kaqchikel-speaking Mayan María (María Mercedes Coroy) lives on a coffee plantation with her impoverished harvester parents. María has never ventured far from the volcano’s fertile slopes. Given the arranged marriage she is facing with the coffee plantation’s Spanish-speaking foreman, her dreams of life on the other side of the volcano may never be realized. María’s long days of toil are made more bearable by thoughts of Pepe (Marvin Coroy), a fellow Mayan worker on the plantation for whom María secretly longs. Pepe’s dreams of emigrating to the United States only add to his appeal to María, who yearns for a different way of life. As the tension between the two mounts, so too do the stakes for both María and her parents. Not only could the advantages conferred to them by María’s betrothal to the foreman be jeopardized by María’s desires, but their very livelihood.
Jayro Bustamante’s stunning first feature explores the encroaching forces of modernity, bureaucracy, and the ringing effects of colonialism on a marginalized indigenous peoples, while also exploring the wonders of their folkways. Set against a familiar backdrop of love, lust, and longing, Bustamante's critique of the forces eroding the traditional Mayan way of life is both timely and timeless. The film was developed with the input of local Mayan peoples, and it shows in the sensitive portrayal of their culture. This poignant film was Guatemala’s entry to the 88th annual Academy Awards and has received more than a dozen awards at festivals around the world. (J. Scott Braid)