Native Spirit Festival at KCAW Kensington + Chelsea Art Week

The Keepers of Corn (Los Guardianes del Maíz)

Expired July 3, 2022 10:59 PM
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In the Mexican state of Oaxaca, as harvest comes to an end, Indigenous farmers begin to travel far and wide to attend intercambios de semilla, or seed exchanges. These public gatherings large and small, provide a venue to trade seeds, knowledge and experiences. As vital to the farmers as oral almanacs, the often festive assemblies have grown organically over thousands of years and take place in the plazas of small villages scattered throughout the mountainous countryside.


About 35 kilometers from the capital city of Oaxaca lies the town of Ejido Unión Zapata. Since the 1960s and the discovery in the nearby caves of Guila Naquitz of the oldest known evidence of corn cultivation on the planet, Unión Zapata has become the seat of what could be called the mother of all seed exchanges, the annual Feria de la Agrobiodiversidad, or Agrobiodiversity fair.


Each year at the end of November, Unión Zapata hosts over 500 Indigenous farmers and their families. Throughout the day, while bands play and prizes are awarded, there are food and beverages for everyone. But, no money changes hands. The only currency tendered here is that of good advice. And, it was here that the idea for our documentary film was born.


To understand why the feria is so important, we needed to trace some of the farmers back to their communities. Over the next three years, we were generously welcomed into their fields, to their tables and into their homes in the far flung Mixtec, Zapotec and Chinantla regions.


Indigenous farmers, artisans and cooks all tell this story – in Spanish and in their own languages - of the origins of native corn and how their ancestors shepherded the ever-evolving seeds out of the dawn of agriculture and into the 21st Century; a collective labor involving over 350 generations. Their voices are joined by community leaders, scientists, chefs and others whose knowledge and activism stand, not only in defense of food sovereignty and the genetic integrity, diversity and community ownership of native seeds, but in defense of a durable cultural legacy and a way of life.


It is hoped that this work serves as a testament to both the fragility and tenaciousness of traditional farming cultures, whose way of life is challenged daily by the incursion of fast-food, soft drinks and a growing ecological catastrophe brought on by the increasing use of herbicides. We are honored and grateful to have been invited into these communities and hope that our work provokes a dialog between them and others like them, even in other countries. We did not set out to do so, but we learned and want now to show that coalitions between budget-strapped, yet dedicated, government scientists, activists and the farmers themselves actually do happen. And, they actually get things done.


Jonathan Barbieri, Executive Producer

  • Year
    2021
  • Runtime
    60 minutes
  • Language
    English, Spanish, Zapotec, Chinantec
  • Country
    Mexico
  • Director
    Gustavo Vazquez Orozco
  • Screenwriter
    Gustavo Vazquez Orozco
  • Producer
    Yira Vallejo
  • Executive Producer
    Jonathan Barbieri