[ITA] [ENG] // ICAROS: A VISION // The first time I heard about Ayahuasca, a psychoactive plant medicine, it was thanks to Leonor Caraballo, soon to be co-director, together with Matteo Norzi, of the feature film Icaros: A Vision. Leonor Caraballo had been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, and the search for a cure that did not involve poisonous substances led her to the Peruvian forest. Entering the world of traditional Amazonian medicine and its hallucinogenic plants means opening to an experience that for most people is unforgettable, and for many life-changing. It’s hard to talk about Ayahuasca without sounding like a flower child who has lost touch with reality. Believe me, I’ve done it quite a few times, and the looks I get are very revealing. Nevertheless, faced with the lessons that this plant has to offer, it’s hard to keep it to yourself. Your instinct is to share the experience with as many people as possible. Their reaction doesn’t matter. This urge is what brought co-directors Leonor Caraballo and Matteo Norzi and hands-on producer Abou Farman to dive into the challenge of making a movie on location in the heart of the Amazon forest. They endured heat waves, heavy rain, jungle animals, exotic diseases, and the highjacking of their equipment by drug dealers. Icaros: A Vision is the story of two very different characters who meet in an Ayahuasca healing centre and share a similar need to deal with their own fears: Angelina (Ana Cecilia Stieglitz), an American woman diagnosed with cancer, and Arturo (Arturo Izquierdo), a Peruvian shaman who’s losing his eyesight. Their interaction with each other and with Ayahuasca (the other protagonist of the film) is what will ultimately transform their lives. The film characters are played by real shamans and Shipibo non-actors as well as an international cast of professionals. The dwellings of Angelina, in the movie, and of Leonor Caraballo in real life, certainly go hand in hand. "The making of the film also has a deeply personal side, which is its real heart,” comments producer Abou Farman. Leonor, like Angelina, went to Peru to look for a cure to her illness, but what she found instead was a path of acceptance. Accepting your destiny, your finitude, and making some sense of it all, is probably a greater gift than a specific cure. Death is where we’re all ultimately headed, and learning to live with this notion is one of life’s greatest challenges. Ayahuasca can be very helpful in this sense, but it’s important to understand what Ayahuasca is, and what it definitely is not. First of all, we are not talking about a narcotic, but a medicine. The active principle of Ayahuasca is DMT, the same substance produced by our pineal gland every night during REM sleep. So, contrary to a narcotic, Ayahuasca does not have negative effects on the body (a pregnant woman could take it), and it does not create dependence. In fact, one of its principal uses for westerners is the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction. But experiencing Ayahuasca does not only entail facing the effects of the plant, but also entering the ancient culture of the Shipibo-Conibo people that is trying to survive the sweeping power of globalization and deforestation. It’s impossible not to reflect on the notions of “civilized” versus “underdeveloped” cultures when one is confronted with the lifestyle, teachings and principles of these Amazonian tribes. We like to think that what we define (unjustly, if you ask me) as the First World represents the height of civilization, the model to which those cultures belonging to the Second and Third Worlds should with no doubt aspire. Ironically, the latest trends in city planning, architecture, design, engineering and agriculture seem to discover, as brand new concepts, principles that have guaranteed the preservation of land and culture for many of these Amazonian native tribes for thousands of years. Just think of Permaculture, the shiny new concept that encompasses environmental design, ecological engineering, regenerative habitat, agricultural systems modelled around natural ecosystems, and integrated water resources management. These things all sound very “cutting-edge” but they are, in fact, far from new. For millennia, Amazon tribes have lived their lives according to a principle they call Ifutisu, translatable as “Life Without Aggressiveness”. We have simply ignored them. Just as centuries ago we “discovered” America and made it ours, now we think we are “inventing” Ifutisu, by giving it a shiny new name. Unfortunately, history pays tribute to the conquerors, those who bring death, ruin and repression to other human beings, instead of honouring those able to live their lives, leaving the world behind them just as they had found it, knowing that its survival is infinitely more important than our personal glory. We believe the Apple watch is sufficient proof that we’re leading the way. We’ve put GNP (Gross National Product) above GWB (General Wellbeing). By doing this, we have lost track of what’s good for us, our children and the future of our land. As the Nobel winners Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz have argued for a long time, we should not consider only economic parameters to measure development. But how can you be happy without a fast Internet connection? I know, it’s a mystery. And so it remains until you try Ayahuasca, guided by the psyche-penetrating chanting of a shaman’s Icaros. As Terence McKenna puts it, “The Icaros, the magical songs, are actually technical tools for controlling the fabric of the hallucination.” There is nothing in our entertainment-oriented society, so dependent on technology’s frantic evolution, that can offer an experience even remotely as vivid, meaningful, revealing, colourful and love-inducing as an Ayahuasca ceremony. Virtual reality already exists in the narrative of our dreams, and that very narrative is what composes the Ayahuasca “trip”. As dreams are revealing of our deepest and most hidden troubles, so are the images and experiences that we confront during these ceremonies. By forcing you to face your weaknesses and fears, Ayahuasca helps you to process them and put them behind you. There’s no fooling Ayahuasca, it’s a lie detector that uncovers all the truths you’ve always pretended not to see. You can’t postpone tough conversations during an Ayahuasca ceremony, because the choice is not up to you. "Then one day I realized I was leaving this planet anyway and I had no idea what that meant," says Angelina in the film. Leonor Caraballo has sadly passed away before seeing the project completed. What she has left behind is a thought-provoking, poetic and visually stunning film (shot with incredible attention to detail by Ghasem Ebrahimian), that draws attention to the work, life and wisdom of the Shipibo-Conibo people of Peru and their traditional medicinal practices. Co-director Matteo Norzi says: “Acknowledging the power of plants is the best way to change the jeopardized future of the Amazon, which itself is like a dying patient.”