Buying the Catfish for the Shaman: Filming the Jondachi, Day 3

Having not been able to complete the full shoot on the Lower Jondachi yesterday, we definitely were starting the day a little behind. The guys were still feeling pretty under the weather and so we decided to finish up with the Gran Canion shoot as well as start to get the work going with the shaman and in and around his village.

Like every day so far, we started behind the ball with our driver showing up thirty minutes late. This is something that I need to adjust to because Ecuadorians follow la hora ecuatoriana (“Ecuadorian time”) where lateness is not seen as rude like it is in North America. I am of the attitude that it is unprofessional and it put us in a tough spot… I am still frustrated about this issue.  In the end, I would hire a driver that knows just how important it is to be on time so we get that extra time at the end of the day.


We ended up stopping by the caves that Dan and I had recorded some audio in to pick up a phone that Dan had forgotten. I quickly had a look around at the surrounding village and realized it was the vision I had for Brayan’s home in the story. We all agreed and after talking to the locals we were out of the van and shooting in their home with all the authenticity of a traditional Quechua cocina.   

It was perfect. We also realized that we could knock out a lot of shots planned for two locations in this one spot to save the travel of going to multiple places. Quickly we were back on track time-wise. It felt great.

Knowing we still had a big day I found myself in the role of director, coordinator, audio, grip, etc. It was very important for me to put trust in Dylan with the shooting and Emrick for everything else while I was making sure we could get to the next step.

Emrick Blanchette is one of the most relaxed people to work with. When I get overwhelmed with a million things going on in my head, I can always trust that I can get Emrick to take over on anything and he will deliver. He mainly came down as a drone operator but he is actually a jack-of-all-trades. He is also a great friend.


We quickly realized that the Gran Canion shoot would not be today. It was too much and we were getting so much magic at the village that we decided to take it off the to-do list as we still had to go to Santo Domingo to meet the shaman.

Oh right… about the shaman. After a massive discussion on Monday, we began gaining their trust to shoot with them. The family was all supportive of the project and willing to shoot with us. It was fantastic. Only problem was that they could only do it the following week as they were traveling to do healing in the surrounding villages. We told them we would pay for them to come back if they were available and they agreed. We decided that $50 was fair to have them come back Wednesday at 6.

Part of the authenticity of the offering/cleansing was to offer them a fish. This would be a typical way that a Quechua would offer something to a shaman. We also figured a massive, beautiful local catfish would also make them pretty happy and feed their family. On Monday, Dan and I went to the market to order a fish to have ready for midday on Wednesday. We also picked up some tobacco and other various items to offer the family in thanks for their help. They were so generous that they also loaned us an entire wardrobe, fishing gear, a shigra, and a machete.

Midway through the afternoon of shooting today I had to leave to go back to town and pick up this fish: this gutted and incredibly beautiful catfish. We ran through the market with the cooler to get back to the shoot and grab the guys so that we could get some work done with the fish and meet the shaman on time to perform a ceremony by the river. This all might not make sense at the moment but it will when you see the film.

So we packed up from the village where we ended up spending most of the day. We basically rolled with it all day as we kept finding magic and knocking off the shot list more than we expected. It was incredible. At this point I was starting to see my vision come together and realized that I was on track with time and schedule.


As we were shooting Brayan with the fish, a taxi pulled up at 5:55pm and the shaman got out right on time. It was so perfect. We were ready to go for one of the most crucial shoots of the project and everything was in place.   

A typical cleansing ceremony involves tobacco and usually Ayahuasca. It is designed to rid someone of negative energy and uncertainty before an important quest (in this case, Brayan’s first time down the Upper Jondachi). Ayahuasca is a natural drug containing DMT which can be pretty strong. For the purpose of the shoot we did not give any to Brayan but the shaman did take some along with potent tobacco. We were able to shoot and see the shaman’s traditional preparations.

We all shot in silence as the shaman performed the cleansing ceremony under the moonlight beside the river. It was extremely interesting. He sang and chanted as he brushed the leaves over Brayan with smoke and fire.   

When we returned to the shaman’s house we were all a little quiet and taking in the whole experience. We all knew we witnessed something that was very unique. We all talked a lot ourselves about having that experience next time we come to Ecuador. I am very interested in trying it with Ayahuasca and seeing what I discover about myself.   


We thanked the family over and over and then left to go back to Tena. After two huge days of shooting I knew we had all our on land stuff. However, we did not have any on river footage yet (and that is a huge component of the story as well). 

We are praying that the levels cooperate tomorrow for the Upper Jondachi. We still have a lot of work ahead. Part 4 gets us back on the river.

Sidenote: Our fourth crew member, Raphaël Boudreault-Simard,  has arrived. He is Emrick’s partner on the drone and director at Flow Motion Aerials.  I know they are going to get something special. Let’s wait and see what happens tomorrow!