StoriesSeptember 27, 2016
Central Balsas Nahautl
Jonathan D. Amith (Producer and Co-director), Roberto Olivares (Director)
A documentary film (64 mins)
Thirty-five years ago, as a young man, I met Silvestre Pantaleón. He showed me how he made rope, baked stones into lime, and bent rods (only certain rods, he was careful to note) into snares. He taught me the flora and fauna. And he talked. I have spent decades recording hundreds of hours in the unusual, melodic Nahuatl of San Agustín Oapan, the only Nahuatl with tone and where consonants and syllables melt away leaving a short wake of a word: a neighboring village’s nokxipahpa:kas is in Oapan simply noxí:pá:s (‘she will wash her legs’). The language itself is beautiful. But the corpus is dominated by the fervor of Silvestre’s tales. Like Proust’s narrator whose memory was stirred by a madeleine cake dipped in tea, don Silvestre’s many responses to the simplest of questions—How does one plant? Who taught you to make rope?—could take me on an extended journey penetrating through a very personal past. We grew older and close.
I thought of what I could offer him, and his family, and decided on a video. His children and his grandchildren and beyond would remember him. It started as documentation of his knowledge and ended as a documentary of his venerable character. A universal yet personal story of aging with dignity in an unnamed village whose location is only hinted at in a final scene. The presence that dominates is that of the protagonist of a film that bears his name: Silvestre Pantaleón—dedicating himself to the only remunerative activities he knows: handcrafting rope for religious ceremonies and making seldom used household objects that he alone still has the skills to produce. The little money he earns is used to pay for an ancient ritual whose ephemeral benefits are soon overwhelmed by his aching body.
Jonathan D. Amith, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 23 September 2016