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Stories on a Stick: The Film

Donal with Graciela ShunaThis film takes us on an astonishing journey, from the director’s near fatal encounter with polio as a child in Ireland to an archaic world of ritual magic deep in the Amazon jungle. Here rainforest dwellers consume powerful hallucinogenic plants, to communicate with ‘spirits’ not only to diagnose and heal illness but also to do harm through witchcraft.

Inspired by a chance meeting with Pablo Amaringo, the renowned visionary painter and former shaman, Donal Ruane went on a year long odyssey to the Peruvian Amazon in September 2001 in the hope of learning about the magical practices around the legendary hallucinogenic brew ayahuasca, but more importantly, to heal himself. When he was 3 years old Donal had a near-fatal encounter with polio and spent two years recovering physically; but the psychological scars remained. As he grew older, he suffered increasing bouts of depression that were exacerbated by years of alcohol and drug abuse. By the age of forty, Donal’s life was a mess. In a desperate attempt to turn it around he decided to take a trip to the Amazon to visit Amaringo.

During this time Donal became apprenticed to Amaringo’s cousin, sixty four year old Graciela Shuna, a practicing healer and lived with her for several months in an isolated jungle hamlet where he was initiated into the use of ayahuasca. We follow Donal as he endures long periods of  fasting isolated in the jungle and the sometimes-daily consumption of massive doses of ayahuasca and tobacco to purify his body in order to learn from the ‘spirits’ of the plants. Through these unrelenting, purging ordeals, suffering from malnutrition, dehydration and insomnia, Donal eventually heals himself and starts to learn how to master ayahuasca. He has drunk ayahuasca hundreds of times. He no longer suffers from depression and has not touched alcohol or abused drugs since. Donal is now a teacher.

The film is based on the director’s video and written diaries, archive footage and in-depth interviews with Pablo Amaringo and Graciella Shuna his teachers. We will hear about the  psychological anguish and the sheer physical and mental endurance of Donal’s harrowing journeys into the mind-boggling, profoundly breathtaking inner landscapes that it is possible to access on one of the most powerful hallucinogens known to man. Be prepared to travel beyond the limits of human understanding into the unknown! Deeply alien and often terrifying, this is an excursion into the very nature of consciousness itself: an experience that shattered many of the Donal’s beliefs, and changed his life forever.

In the tradition of films like ‘Touching the Void’ the film will combine dramatic reconstructions with documentary footage of the original journey into the jungle in 2001. It will also include simulations of Donal’s subjective mind states: encounters with ‘supernatural entities’, near death experiences, bizarre dreams and the utterly alien visionary inner worlds made possible with ayahuasca. We want to create a truly unique look for these sequences by combining actual footage of the ceremonies with dramatic reconstructions inter-cut with physical 3D models and CGI visual effects.

Why another film on Ayahuasca?

Graciela and DonalMany films have been made recently about the phenomena of westerners going into the jungles of Peru to drink ayahuasca with shamans. However, this film differs considerably in that it documents a blow-by-blow account of a prolonged, dangerous and highly disciplined apprenticeship during which the plants themselves teach how to heal oneself and to navigate and master these awe-inspiring, often terrifying interior landscapes. Over the years Donal has risked his mental and physical health by making repeated psychologically grueling journeys deep into his psyche where he has been forced to confront all his fears and weaknesses. For it is only by doing this that he can begin to learn how to master ayahuasca. To make this film Donal has made a number of trips to Peru and has drunk hundreds of times while following the prescriptions of this science. It is the director’s intention to understand and document this fascinating but harrowing psychic ordeal, and in the process to validate the knowledge and practices of indigenous people which are wrongly, often marginalized as ‘primitive superstition’. For the first time this film will present a view of Amazonian shamanism from the inside out.

Statement by Donal Ruane

This is the story of a journey that literally saved my life. It is the story of how a near fatal childhood illness left me dysfunctional and self-destructive and of a spiritual crisis that sent me into the Amazon jungle and on a profound journey deep into myself. It is a universal story of self-discovery and healing that needs to be told because it provides a portal into an arcane world of ritual magic and the real living breathing spiritual world that exists now and always – within and around us all. It is a story that contrasts two radically different ways of taking drugs, one, chaotic and destructive, the other, disciplined and profoundly empowering, and I believe the world is a better a place when this story is told.

” The icaros, the magic songs, are like an energy that takes care of the ayahuasca session and gives life to it. That is why the shaman must sing. In the spiritual realms the spirits work with songs. I have been shown how the spirits created the earth by singing. The music they made to give the earth the living energy that it has now … They were singing with harps, with trumpets, with string instruments of all types … millions of beings, millions of angels … All these things have been shown to me when I drank ayahuasca. So if you fast well and purify yourself you can see these things also “.
– Pablo Amaringo

“I drank ayahuasca until I saw myself dead. I vomited like this, I tell you, the things that I threw up drinking the purgative, ayahuasca. Vipers, chameleons, cockroaches, boas, crocodiles, ay, I don’t know … but such an elevated drunkenness that I didn’t even know what I was doing anymore…. I stopped drinking ayahuasca after ninety days … I said that I would never drink again, ever, because I saw myself dead. I died, I cried when I saw myself dead. But later on I entered myself again here through the crown of my head, suc! I entered my body and I was alive again”.
– Graciella Shuna

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