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Connor Mackey 32255326Geography 220Atitlan in Bloom Essay

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Connor Mackey – 32255326

Geography 220

“Atitlan in Bloom” Reflection Assignment

John Meyer’s documentary Atitlan in Bloom (2013) is a travelogue that recounts his adventures and learnings during the time he spent in Guatemala during the late 2000s. Originally intended to be a short film centered on those who moved there following a prediction that the world’s end would coincide with the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012, the film took a turn in a different direction once the crew arrived. Rather than discussing the end times, Atitlan in Bloom explores the natural and cultural beauty of this region in the central highlands of Guatemala through wonderful cinematography and interviews with locals in the towns surrounding Lake Atitlan. In the words of the director, “Why make a film about the end of the world, when we just found a part of it we like so much?” (2:00) Throughout the piece, we are introduced to characters of various backgrounds. Whether they are politicians like Mariano Mendoza, artisans such as Juana Amalia Sicay, or herbalists such as Christina Maria Gonz?lez and Doctor Pizza, each character contributes to our understanding of daily life along the shores of the lake. Besides just this, the characters and the film give the viewer a comprehensive understanding of many of the issues that have developed in this region.

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It is my opinion that the film portrays the region’s struggle with pollution, specifically water contamination, in an accurate and detailed manner. We learn that there is an overwhelming buildup of Cyanobacteria in the lake, most likely due to the destruction of a waste treatment plant which led to raw sewage emptying into the water. The film then includes a series of interviews, all with locals who are aware and willing to act to resolve the issue. From these interviews, the viewer can discern that the locals care very much about the lake and are aware of how much they rely on it. Their proactive response to pollution is different from the more laid back, “I’ll deal with it later” mentality that we see in many “Western” cultures. This can largely be attributed to the way people in each of these cultures interact with pollution. In the Atitlan region, pollution directly impacts the lake which is the lifeblood of their economy and key to their wellbeing, whereas in places like North America the impacts of pollution on one’s day-to-day life are more subtle meaning people are less inclined to take direct action against it.

I have also found that the film prominently displays knowledge that the indigenous people possess. The inclusion of the production of natural medicines created by herbalists Christina Maria Gonz?lez and Doctor Pizza effectively demonstrates that the indigenous population had developed remedies for various illnesses long before European medicine came to Guatemala. Also, the film depicts one of the traditional processes for producing cloth via a loom, showing the reader how the indigenous cultures had an understanding of manufacturing and how to build devices that made tedious processes like weaving much easier. However, while the film did a good job of portraying knowledge of medicine, manufacturing and other areas that were known by the indigenous population as a whole, it neglected to touch upon the knowledge of the individual. I do feel that there was room for improvement here, as including information on the region’s education system would further the viewer’s understanding of how learned each member of the population is, allowing them to gauge the knowledge of the people more accurately.

Another takeaway I had after watching the video was regarding the role of government in the towns and municipalities surrounding Lake Atitlan. After listening to Mariano Mendoza describe how he became mayor, it seems that the primary role of the local governments is to unify the people and develop public works. Mendoza talks a lot about how he constructed a Municipal Building during his time as mayor. This seems to be something he is proud of, leading me to believe that one of the qualities of being a good mayor in this region the ability to complete public works. Additionally, before spending time as a mayor, Mendoza was a union leader, meaning he spent a lot of time organizing people and efforts. This, combined with his appearance as a family man helps show that the mayors and leaders of towns and villages surrounding Lake Atitlan act as father figures for the entire community, bringing them together and giving them someone to look up to.

Overall, I find Atitlan in Bloom to be a great complement to the material we are learning in class. It provides a magnified view of a small area in one of the larger regions we cover in lectures and gives insight into the culture, government, and way of life there.

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