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.