Swiss-Panamanian director Andrés Peyrot films with the Indigenous Kuna people in Panama’s Guna Yala islands as they seek to lay claim to a 1975 documentary that captured their community, but never was shown to them.
God is a Woman
The Kuna community is one of the largest remaining Indigenous tribes in Latin America. Based in the Guna Yala islands off Panama’s Caribbean coast, they organized a revolution in the 1920s that helped establish their independence. In 1975, they attracted the attention of Pierre-Dominique Gaisseau, an Oscar-winning French filmmaker and anthropologist. He moved with his family to spend a year documenting the Kuna’s matrilocal society. He promised to share the resulting film with the community, but that never happened.
In recent years, Kuna elders have been on a quest to have that promise fulfilled. One of the most motivated is Arysteides Turpana, who studied in France and doggedly pursues the film’s trail through the bureaucracy of government ministries. In God is a Woman, Swiss-Panamanian filmmaker Andrés Peyrot follows Turpana’s quest and captures the way a younger Kuna generation is making their own media. One of those rising talents is Orgun Wagua, who collaborates with Peyrot as a cameraperson and associate producer.
Many Kuna members from the 1970s retain strong memories of Gaisseau, his wife Kyoko and their young daughter Akiko. Their memories bring out discrepancies between how Gaisseau saw the Kuna versus how they saw themselves. That doesn’t diminish their eagerness to see what he made.
God is a Woman is simultaneously a cautionary tale raising questions around how and why documentaries are made and for whom, and a testament to the power of what it means to see yourself on the big screen.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival