WALKING INLAND, TIERRA ADENTRO
Inland (Tierra adentro, Panama 2018, by Mauro Colombo) explores parallel visions regarding “the jungle”, both the tangible jungle of exuberant flora and fauna and the intangible one of supernatural powers and of human wisdom and prejudice cast upon it. A choral narrative encompassing a zoologist, a self-proclaimed Indigenous “sorcerer”, peasant-ranchers, migrants, explorers-historians and a nun entwine a contradictory canopy that reflects humans’ relationship toward nature, but mostly toward themselves.
To walk. If there is a verb that encapsulates Mauro Colombo’s beautiful and to me devastating film, Inland, it’s to walk. More so in Spanish, in which caminar, to walk, derives from camino, road, path, way. But by walking I don’t mean the mundane alternation of one foot in front of the other to change physical location. I speak of a deeper sense of the verb, to walk as a meditative process, as an inner quest for our place in the universe, the walk that has taken us evolutionarily, cognitively and spiritually from the branches of the dwindling trees in the Horn of Africa two hundred thousand years ago to travel and inhabit the rest of that wonderful continent, first, and from there Eurasia, Oceania, America...
To walk as a process of inhabiting and experiencing the road, in the ethical-mystical sense of the Chinese Tao, of the Korean-Japanese Do, to perceive and ponder the mysteries of Life and thus to be transformed, that’s the walk I refer to in relation to Inland.
Mauro Colombo —Mauro walker— introduces Inland’s protagonists through walking, and when not, through their reflections on their opened, walked roads. Such is the case of Cuban, Ghanean and Congolese migrants who have just crossed the infamous Darien Gap, Inland’s scenario, still caught in the euphoria of surviving the Russian roulette that land migration in eastern Panama has turned into. This Darien Gap, as mythical as it is miscomprehended, is also the path on which a conservationist follows the jaguar’s spectral tracks; the almost invisible route a troop of explorers marches on in search of the ruins of a nineteenth-century mine, now devoured by forest: the trail on which peasant-ranchers drag burning branches to set fire to a freshly deforested mountainside; the rill an Afro-Darienite environmentalist threads on, as he faces death-threats for opposing the destruction of the forest; the path an Emberá Indigenous herbalist wanders, in dialogue with the plants he must cut to heal a girl; and the missionary trail of a Maryknoll nun who still remembers the four sisters she lost, forty years ago, to El Salvador’s National Guard.
All of these walkers lead us to Inland’s true, undisputed protagonist, the jungle. As macro-organism for whom the human creatures walking across it are little more than thoughts, emotions or, in the worst case, malignant but temporary tumors, it’s the jungle, the woodland, the forest, the one which seems to hold the last word in Mauro’s Inland.
As coda, I must clarify my use of “devastating” in the second paragraph above. Involuntary member of the cursed generation that grew up when the Panamerican Highway’s expansion opened much of the Darien Gap, I heard many stories of the devastation facilitated by that road. Despite this, or because of it; despite the images of Swedish, Siberian, Amazonian and Australian forest fires burning fresh in my memory, to see a tiny track of Panamanian forest burn in Inland is always devastating to me.
Soon we will publish a long but fascinating conversation with Mauro Colombo, Inland’s director, photographer-screenwriter and editor-alchemist. In it, Mauro reflects on walking, the Darien, alchemy, this film’s intimate production process and the influence of Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung, Mauro’s alpine neighbor, on Mauro’s work.