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Project Team

None of us gets where we are going alone. Nowhere is this sentiment more accurate than in the Toledo District. The quality and accuracy of The Living Maya didn't just happen, nor did it happen solely on the backs of the project director, Anne-Michelle Marsden, and photographer Eric Leupold. This documentary is a testament to teamwork - as it was critical throughout every stage of the documentary's development.

The Living Maya simply could not have been developed without the dedication of nearly 100 volunteers, over 90 of these individuals were Toledo Maya - village elders, Maya Leaders, and fellow villagers.

Similarly, ongoing contributions of individuals such as Mr. Larry Smith, Punta Gorda, Belize, and Mr. Michael Broek, Port Republic, New Jersey, made the difference between the desire for the project to come to fruition, and actualizing its completion. With that said, we invite you into our hearts as we share a bit of our passion for this project and the Mopan and Q´eqchi´ Maya.

Pedro and Rederick Che in milpa
Six year old Roderick Che of Silver Creek Village (center) served as the youngest member of the project team. Along with his father, Pedro Che, Chairman, Toledo Grain Growers Association, Roderick helped the project photographer learn about traditional planting practices. He also regularly served as a scout, leading "Mr. Eric" through the bush to where his father was working.
A Note from the Project Director

A spiritual orientation that we are all one people and that our environment is sacred is at very the center of my life. This project was an outward expression of my desire to increase the level of caring between people - as well as celebrate the Maya's relationship with their environment.

I believe education and communication are key in creating opportunities for clearer vision of one another. Through these two means we can understand things that have heretofore been a mystery, or rethink issues we thought we knew all about, but now recognize that we did not.
Anne-Michelle Marsden
Anne-Michelle Marsden
Project Director

I believe that people find it hard to dismiss or stereotype their neighbors. Neighbors have names and loved ones. They're simply trying to get through the day, just like everyone else. A stranger - well, it's just easier not to think about the fact that he has the same basic needs as we do - but not the guy next door. You've watched his kids grow up, for goodness sake.

The challenge is helping people recognize that we are all neighbors to one another - that we are, in fact, all connected by our humanity and our environment. Help people find a way to respect, teach, and communicate with one another - and you'll find you've gathered more friends than enemies.

I developed The Living Maya for those interested in seeing this indigenous population clearly. The Maya ask for your respect. They would like to teach you about their culture. If you choose to listen, you can hear Mayan voices communicating with you throughout the text - voices of sages - voices of leaders - voices of the average villager - voices of children. I was only the tool to make them available.

Eric Leupold
Eric Leupold


Capturing the Essence of a Culture
on Film

When I first agreed to volunteer for this project I thought traveling to Belize would present a refreshing holiday from my daily routine in Virginia. Once I began to participate in its research and planning, however, I realized it would take a much greater commitment than I initially thought. I planned for two weeks and stayed for a year.

I quickly recognized that my biggest challenge would be capturing the essence of the Mopan and Q´eqchi´ spirit on film. If this project was to succeed, I had to get the Maya to accept my presence in their lives, as well as relax and be themselves in front of the camera. I must admit that my first couple of weeks among the Maya were not very successful.

Then the magic happened. We were in the village of Tambron documenting the Maya's dedication to performing traditional dances as prescribed by past generations. The men of Tambron had nearly completed their month long nightly practices in preparation for the Deer Dance Festival. I was testing my flash to determine a setting, a critical procedure, as the practice area was only dimly lit by torch. As the flash lit the area, suddenly every child and young adult in the village surrounded me. Children were even quite insistent about having their picture taken. Curiosity had over come the Maya's reserve.

This instance didn't suddenly end the challenges before me, but it made me realize that we weren't all that different after all. People can be curious - or reserved - based on the circumstance. The Southeast United States or the rainforest of Belize - we are all driven by the same instincts.

Men from Tambron Village practice the
Deer Dance by torch light.

Five days later: Tambron Deer Dancers in costume during the festival

The rest of the issues resolved themselves overtime. My continued presence in the area made everyone more comfortable with all my photographic paraphernalia. Mutual trust began to develop. I began to make friends. By the time Deer Dance organizers from Crique Jute and San Antonio contacted me to document their sacred ceremony of felling the Sa´yuk tree four months later, I was "Mr. Eric" - an invited participant.

The Maya's trust of my desire to capture the deepest sense of themselves made all the difference in opening up a world I never knew existed - and most have never had the opportunity to understand. Their commitment to make this documentary accurate and complete allowed precious photographs to be available for all to use, as they learn about this culture rich in tradition.

While I thank the Maya for providing such a high level of assistance to the project, I am most indebted to them for their initial curiosity and then their friendship. Many Maya brought me opportunities for pure joy on a daily basis. I will not soon forget their smiles.

Men from Crique Jute and San Antonio pause for a photo with Mr. Eric (center standing) as well as a short rest after hours of ceremony surrounding the felling of the sacred Sa´yuk tree. The group began their journey prior to dawn. A video clip of the ceremony, which took place deep in the forest, is available in the culture section of the documentary.