Mayan Romance ‘Ixcanul’ Is Guatemala’s Entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar

In the six months that have passed since the Guatemalan feature Ixcanul(Volcano) premiered at the Berlin Film International Festival, director Jayro Bustamante’s debut feature has gone on to become the most award-winning film in that country’s history, with important prizes from festivals like Guadalajara, Cartagena, Toulouse, and Berlin. Then, just before the film’s Guatemalan premiere in late August, they went ahead and kicked it up a notch:Ixcanul will be Guatemala’s second-ever submission for Academy Awardsconsideration.

Filmed almost entirely in the Kaqchikel dialect spoken in Guatemala’s coffee-growing highlands, Ixcanul dramatizes the story of María, a young Mayan woman who is promised to the coffee plantation foreman, despite her desire for a lowly coffee cutter named Pepe. Dreaming of absconding with Pepe to a romanticized vision of the United States, María eventually has the encounter with modernity she so yearned for, but not for the reasons she had hoped.

In addition to the impressive naturalistic performances from the film’s non-professional cast, Ixcanul has mostly turned heads for its astonishing cinematography and earned Bustamante comparisons to master directors like Werner Herzog and Peru’s Claudia Llosa. The film’s trailer gives us a sense of just why critics have gone gaga over Ixcanul’s powerful visuals, with radiant bronze skin tones, textured interiors, and the requisite breathtaking landscapes.

But don’t think this film is merely about the pastoral beauty of life in the Guatemalan countryside. As we see in the trailer’s emotionally intense, visually unstable closing shots, Ixcanul explores difficult themes of gender and racial hierarchy in Mayan culture and Guatemalan society as a whole.

Update 9/1/2015 at 5:00pm: An earlier version of this story referred toIxcanul as Guatemala’s first ever entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. It is actually Guatemala’s second submission. El silencio de Neto (The Silence of Neto), directed by Luis Argueta was Guatemala’s first entry in 1994 for the 67th Academy Awards. It did not earn a nomination.

Vulcan’s whimper unsettles the Earth…

For centuries, people have noticed that volcanic eruptions can cause regional, if not worldwide, changes in weather (“climate forcing”). Big volcanic eruptions can eject dust and sulfuric acid aerosol high into the atmosphere. Droplets of these sulfates remain suspended in the stratosphere and reflect sunlight back into space, acting like a global parasol. A “volcanic winter” may ensue, while the aerosol persists aloft. Famous examples include 1816: the year that had no summer (thanks to stratovolcano Mt. Tambora’s eruption in Java). Since then, Krakatau (1883), Santa Maria (1902), Agung (1963), El Chichan (1982) and, most recently, Pinatubo (1991) have been the five biggest eruptions and each has perturbed global climate for a short while, typically resulting in a drop of around 0.25 ˚C for a couple of years after eruption.

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10 interesting facts about Mexico.

1. A Mexican tamale called the zacahuil is three feet long and weighs about 150 pounds. image

2. Mexico is the 14th largest country in the world, geographically, and the world’s 11th most populated country. image

3. The tricolour stripes of the Mexican flag are intended to represent the embodiment of the values of the Mexican nation. The green stripe signifies hope, the white the purity and the red the blood of the nation’s heroes. The coat of arms in the centre of the flag depicts an eagle and a snake from an old Aztec legend. image

4. Speaking of hot, Mexico is situated in one of the most volcanically active regions on the planet, named the ‘Ring of Fire’. The area contains 75% of the world’s active volcanoes. image

5. The city is sinking, and quickly running out of water. Mexico City has sunk about 30 feet in the last century. image

6. Mexican children do not receive presents on Christmas Day. They receive gifts on January 6, the day on which Mexicans celebrate the arrival of the Three Wise Men. image

7. Spanish conquerors brought bullfighting to Mexico, which is now a national sport of Mexico. Bullfighting takes place from November to April, and the Plaza Mexico is the largest bullring in the world. image

8. The government of Mexico imposes fines for individuals who perform their national anthem incorrectly. image

9. Mexican urban subculture known as the Cholombians is notable for its craziest haircut ever. image

10. The sacred drink of the Aztec people was hot chocolate. They also used to add chili pepper to this drink, making it a spicy chocolate concoction. image

Mont Pelee attraction, Coney Island, 1904

Mont Pelee on the Caribbean island of Martinique began its volcanic eruption in late April 1902. Ash began to fall on the nearby city of St. Pierre. At first the city’s inhabitants weren’t too concerned, but some began to send their woman and children to safer ground as the volcano became more active. Finally on May 8th at 7:52 A.M. the mountain’s upper flank facing the city opened and an intensely hot cloud of black vapor shot out towards the city like smoke from the muzzle of a cannon. In less than a minute the hot gas, a mixture of super heated steam at 1900 degrees, lethal gases and explosive dust, reached the city and everything in it burst into flame. At the same time a second black cloud rolled upwards and spread darkness for fifty miles across. Of the 30,000 people trapped in the city only two survived. The city itself burned for days. The show’s auditorium seated 1200 people and was equipped with 11 exits to assure safety in the event the pyrotechnic display got out of control and set the building afire.


The Decade Volcanoes – Mount Etna

Mount Etna is an active stratovolcano on the Italian island of Sicily and, as one of the most active volcanoes on the planet, is no stranger to the public eye. The volcano has documented eruptions dating back to the 1500s with modern eruptions regularly being captured on camera. Broadly speaking, the volcano formed as a product of the subduction of the African Plate beneath the European Plate, a process that will eventually see the closure of the Mediterranean Sea.

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In 2009, the International Space Station flew over the Sarychev Volcano on the Kamchatka Peninsula just as it was erupting and punching a spectacular hole in the clouds. The photos and videos of it are some of the best we’ve ever seen of an erupting volcano from above. Take a look at the pyroclastic flows streaming down the sides of the peak as the station passes (shaking is the camera position adjusting as the ISS moves).