Renata Heinen and Rolf Winters set out on a spiritual journey, awakened by the conversations with Nowaten (“He who listens”, a shaman of a Native American tribe Potawatomi). Tired of the pressures of the rat race and seeking to raise their children in a more meaningful way than the one imposed by the rules of the modern world, they left their old lives behind, searching for “the keepers of the Earth” – the people whose wisdom helps their communities. Their travels helped to create the documentary Down to Earth that aims to change the world by going back to basics.
The video material, initially recorded by all the family members for memories rather than a filmmaking project, mixes messier, raw footage with some delightful images from around the world, meticulously assembled from hours of footage that they accumulated on their journey. Without a crew of professionals and with their own equipment, the family managed to record the accounts of people who are very protective of their time, space and privacy otherwise. The result is quiet and contemplative, with the lens turned to the spiritual guides of tribes who lead their lives outside of man-made boundaries and their implications.
The major undercurrent of the documentary is the human connection based on the laws that remained unchanged, preserved with those who have stayed faithful to them for centuries. Interestingly, despite the physical distance that separates them from each other, their advice on how to live a meaningful, peaceful life in harmony with one’s surroundings doesn’t change with the geographical region. Although they see the doom and gloom caused by the human irresponsibility and toxic behaviours, they never give up their hope for the better future. Their statements connect the wisdom of humanity, preserved with the people who live away from the pressures of the modern societies, or who refused to betray the laws of nature and give into the “spiritual poverty” of the fast-paced world that surrounds them.
The former are “medicine men and women” Renata and Rolf chose to speak to. The latter rebel against the consumptionist culture despite living in the close proximity to metropolises. All of them are leaders, spiritual guides or healers of indigenous communities they devoted their lives to, nurturing their beliefs and passing them over to their children. By juxtaposing the kaleidoscopic views of this broad landscape – from the images from the city streets, the shots of nature, the interview soundbites to the voiceover of the creators’ own experience – the creators of the documentary try to demonstrate that the proposed solutions are possible to implement in every community.
According to the wisdom keepers, “the disconnect of the mind and heart”, failing to learn from the past and lack of long-term thinking led the world to the environmental and societal problems. The film lays their beliefs bare and leaves the audiences with the question – what can we do in our own communities to make meaningful use of the simplest truths portrayed on the big screen? It’s up to the audience to answer; the directors of the documentary hope to start a conversation by exposing the viewers to their findings.
But Down to Earth is hardly a travel documentary. Despite the hardships of the expedition and feat of adjustment that the family undoubtedly put themselves through, the camera steers away from their travel experience and focuses outwards. The connection between the notions nourished by the people from every corner of the Earth makes the message more palatable than the flashy statements that surround us. They’re not controversial or radical – instead, they go back to the roots, encourage introspective thinking and synchronising one’s mind and body with nature.
Down to Earth opens in the UK on the 14th of September 2018.