Almost Visible is a documentary film that tells the story of an unlikely 25-year friendship between American Ethnobotanist Kathleen Harrison and an indigenous Mazatec Shaman in the mountains of Southern Mexico. What began as fieldwork and a search for healing, became a deep entanglement of two families—different, but connected­—witnessing an era of change and cultural upheaval.

Told from an intimate perspective and directed by Kathleen's daughter Klea McKenna, who often traveled with her, this collaborative film draws from years of still photographs, video footage, field recordings and journal entries–including self-documentation by the younger generation of this Mazatec family. It tells an intersectional story that is both deeply personal and culturally urgent.

What began in 1995 as fieldwork on psychoactive plants and fungi and a search for personal healing evolved into twenty-five years of observation and participation in a sprawling multi-generational Mazatec family. The film follows this family's diaspora as many of them leave the mountain villages to adapt to life in the cities of modern Mexico.

Don Rutilio and his wife Maria Luisa are the remaining elders in a family that has a tradition of healers. They live deep in the Sierra Mazateca where they have survived as subsistence farmers, and where he is the local Curandero, an herbal healer and mushroom shaman.

At the age of seven their granddaughter, Rosalva, became one of Kathleen's guides and Mazatec translators, forming a lifelong bond between them. She is now a single mother with three children of her own, living among other displaced indigenous people, in the lowland city of Tehuacán, Puebla.

Through this unlikely relationship we witness an indigenous Mazatec worldview in which the power of nature and plants is accessed through careful observation and prayer, empowered by visionary plants and fungi. Both elemental spirits and Catholic saints are invoked in this spirit-laden world. It is an example of one way that native people are surviving in the 21st century–in order to adapt, they weave shamanism and magical thinking into modern life and colonial Christianity.

There is a rising tide of global interest in how psychedelic plants and mushrooms might aid in healing psychological and emotional trauma and deepen spirituality. Yet crucial knowledge is lost if we take these substances from their context of origin without attempting to understand and learn from the practices, belief systems and worldview of the people who have fostered them for generations. Mazatecs have used tobacco, Salvia, psilocybin mushrooms and other plants to heal the mind, body and spirit for centuries, even in the shadows of colonization. For them, the medicine exists between the plant, the story and the ritual. Honoring these traditions of knowledge as inseparable is part of waking up.

This film illuminates decades of fieldwork, but it also tells the deeper story of a woman searching for something that didn’t exist in her own culture. These cross-cultural relationships, forged slowly and respectfully, reveal how anthropological work is often wrought with conflicts between professional boundaries and personal compassion. It is an example of reciprocal, subjective ethnography; a necessary shift in a field of study that is now being led by women doing important, but often unseen, fieldwork. Almost Visible is a story of how person-to-person interaction across boundaries of class and culture can shift the perspective of everyone involved and expand our awareness.

Our Goal

Our goal is to create a 1-hour documentary film that is an experiential window into a quarter century of fieldwork with this Mazatec family and a glimpse of another worldview. This format is the appropriate length to be shared via streaming platforms, screened at conferences and festivals and shown in classrooms. It will be translated into both Spanish and English.

With Your Support

We have currently completed a 12-minute sample of the film and are now actively seeking funding for continued production and finishing costs to allow us to tell the full story. Your donation makes this possible.

If you are interested in supporting this film at the producer level Please contact us for a screening, project timeline and budget. documentary@botanicaldimensions.org

Our Team

Director / Producer: Klea McKenna is a visual artist based in San Francisco, whose photography has been shown in and collected by SFMOMA, LACMA, Datz Musum of Art in South Korea and The Hecksher Museum in NY and the Victoria and Albert Musum in London. From 2011-2015 she was photographer and videographer for IN THE MAKE. She is the daughter of renegade ethnobotanists Kathleen Harrison and Terence McKenna.

Co-Producer / Storyteller: Kathleen Harrison is an ethnobotanist and teacher who has devoted her life to researching the relationship between plants and people, with a particular focus on art, myth, ritual, and spirituality. For 35 years she has run Botanical Dimensions, a non-profit organization which she founded with her former husband Terence McKenna in 1985.

Co-Producer / Editor: Dana Laman is a film and video editor based in LA. Her documentaries include After Antarctica, Money the Hard Way and several short docs about visual artists for IN THE MAKE.

Cinematographer / Consultant: Ruthie Ristich is a musician, educator and media producer based in Cambridge, MA. She currently teaches at the Berklee College of Music. She has accompanied Kat on fieldwork trips to film and record in the Sierra Mazateca.

Made in collaboration with the Andrade family:
  • Rosalva Estrada Andrade: Storyteller and Interpreter
  • Rutilio Andrade Martinez: Storyteller
  • Angel Andrade Garcia: Interpreter and Mazatec translation
  • Frîne Andrade: Cinematography
  • Josefina Beba: Audio Recording

ALMOST VISIBILE is a project of Botanical Dimensions, a a fiscally sponsored non-profit project of Inquiring Systems, Inc.

Made possible with seed funding from RiverStyx Foundation

Connect with us via email at documentary@botanicaldimensions.org