Documentary

The House is Still Dark

Isolated indigenous families in Northern Nicaragua are affected by an unprecedented mental disorder while attempting to keep away invaders from their land.

The House is Still Dark

 

Director Felipe Roa Pilar (DK/CL)
Producer Thor Hampus Bank & Emil Johnsen (DK)
Editor Esben Blaakilde (DK)
Cinematographer Jorge Roa Pilar (CL)
Sound Design Patricio Pock-Steen Fraile & Simon Erdmann (DK)
Color Grading Jian Zhi Zhang (DK)
Production Company GotFat Productions
Co-production Company Mimbre Producciones (CL)
Status: In development

Synopsis

‘The House is Still Dark’ is set in Alal, an isolated Mayangna indigenous village inside the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve in northern Nicaragua, where the indigenous population are struggling with a mental disorder called ‘Grisi Siknis’ while also facing an imposing threat of deforestation and land grabbing from outsiders. 

Grisi Siknis, which literally means “crazy sickness”, is characterized by long periods of anxiety, dizziness, fear, and irrational anger. The most frightening symptom is the tendency to experience episodes of frenzied behaviour in which the victims loses consciousness and go into a kind of frenzy with violent behaviour – some even pick up knives or machetes and run around attacking physical structures.

This observational film follows 3 different groups in the local community as they deal with experiences of trauma and fear from recent outbreaks of Grisi Siknis and violent land invasions by non-indigenous; the teenagers affected by Grisi Siknis and the local nurse who assists them, the evangelicals who try to provide spiritual protection and an adult group of vigilantes roaming the forest in an effort to prevent non-indigenous from grabbing their land.

There seems to be a link between Grisi Siknis and the looming threat from the people and corporations encroaching on the indigenous community and their culture. After decades of deforestation, the indigenous people are directly threatened in their living conditions due to their dependency on forest resources for subsistence as well as cultural identity. Other believe that the explanation is to be found in the spiritual world, and underneath it all we hear the stories of a desperate community where teenage girls are subjected to abuse and harassment by teenage boys who struggle to cope with the hardships.

The community of Alal has been one of the most afflicted villages over the last 5 years inside the indigenous territory – emphasized by the absence of governmental help. In 2014 it was declared a “state of emergency” in this village by regional authorities after 80 community members driven by the effects of Grisi Siknis destroyed a schoolhouse and 20 houses by machete. Recently, in March 2019, more than 20 people got affected by the mental illness without much media coverage. Currently, there are still cases of young people afflicted by the disease, which has caused that some families have begun to migrate and stay in other villages until the illness is controlled. Questions arose concerning why people living in this community have constantly endured recurrent episodes of Grisi Siknis. The answers might be connected with how much the community has been exposed to violence caused by the land conflict between indigenous and non-indigenous people. According to the leaders of the Mayangna indigenous nation, Alal is one of the closest villages to one of the most important deforestation hot spots inside the indigenous territory as well as a village where people have been attacked and killed by non-indigenous settlers over the last 10 years. On the other hand, common local beliefs hold that Grisi Siknis has been caused by the practice of witchcraft carried out by community members influenced by evil spirits.

The film unfolds with a group of teenage girls who are seated in the twilight in front of the local nurse. We see them being tested in their blood pressure, vision and physical mobility. Everyone seems to know the whole procedure, and a clear sound of medical instruments give us a sense of ritual. At the same moment, at the local church, the preacher put his hands on the forehead of a woman who has her eyes shut. We hear him praying and asking the help of God for healing that woman. From outside the church, everything seems calm and silence although the sounds of insects in the jungle give us a certain sense of strident noise when the night arrives. Not far from the church, a man counts how many shotgun cartridges has in his bag and put them on a table. We see him with his son who observes him with curiosity and gravity.

The film moves forward with daily activities that are, in one way or another, affected by certain lack of energy, stillness and worry: some of the teenage girls lies alone on a hamac; a vigilante shaves himself before leaving his house with his rifle on his shoulder; the preacher talks with some people about how many hectares have recently been clear-cut by outsiders; a nurse keeps organised and clean the medical instruments while writing a medical record. During the development of the film, we are, as viewers, affected by a sense of strangeness, and at the same time, intrigued by scenes that give us the impression that something went wrong in the recent past.

As the film evolves, the atmospheres of despair are broken through small daily situations where the characters can breath and enjoy life, for instance, the teenage girls and boys play a ball game, the vigilante group sing a popular song while travelling by river and some volunteers in the church are pleased by adorning the church. After these moments of relief, we get again into atmospheres of danger and uncertainty when we see the vigilante group exploring a new deforested area made by the non-indigenous while holding their rifles and guns; one of the teenage girls watches a video from her sister’s cell phone how she behave and scream under the effects of Grisi Siknis; the preacher asks around who deals with witchcraft.

From the beginning to end, the three groups of characters develop independently of each other when it comes to see how they face their daily difficulties and follow their set of actions. However, as being part of the same community the characters meet at common places such as the church and the river.

Characters in the film:
1) A group of teenage girls who present symptoms of Grisi Siknis
This group is regularly assisted by a local nurse who do basic medical assessment and provide primary medication. The teenagers are monitored by the nurse and are questioned concerning when it was the last time they got the symptoms of Grisi Siknis and how they felt while experiencing the illness. The nurse invites them to reenact what they did just before they loss consciousness if they are able to recall. Those who are in a critical condition are kept isolated from the rest of the community by their families in order to avoid future cases of Grisi Siknis. The illness is treated by the nurse from a medical and psychological perspective although the teenage girls associate the disease with the supernatural world.  

2) The preacher who tries to provide spiritual protection to any who feels attacked by evil forces and support the victims caused by the land conflict.
The preacher is one of the most important figures within the community both as spiritual and political leader. When it comes to Grisi Siknis, he tries to protect his people through the Christian faith and counselling and tries to give answers about the possible causes of the illness such as spiritual curse and Devil’s work. However, his power as spiritual leader has been undermined over the years due to the outbreaks of Grisi Siknis have only been controlled by traditional healing given by shamans. Regarding the land conflict, the preacher has an important influence in the community decision making.

3) A vigilante group who watches the surroundings to provide security and justice. Ordinary community members have decided to contribute as vigilantes and forest rangers due to the absence of the government inside the territory. Decades of social injustices and land grabbing have pushed the community in a desperate need of protection and security. The vigilantes watch the surroundings in order to see any ruptured landscapes and settlements of outsiders. They move across the territory by traveling by land and rivers.

 

For more information please contact producer Thor Hampus Bank, +45 22129474 or mail.