The Hero’s Journey

Written by Mike McKay:


Jondachi was an experiment in following the Hero’s Path.  While it seems incredibly obvious to us as filmmakers, we were surprised by how many thought this story was true.   That is a major compliment. 

Set in the Napo Valley in Ecuador, Jondachi was born out of requests for Five2Nine to make a documentary-style piece to highlight the Jondachi River and its hydroelectric threats.   What came out of this request was a spiritual piece that represented something more than a river that gets paddled by kayakers from all over the world but a story about a connection to the river that goes much beyond the physical world.  ‘Jondachi’ was able to make this connection through the use of the hero’s journey.  This is a story structure used in filmmaking.



The above picture gives a general overview of the typical hero’s journey for a film such as Jondachi.  To get a better understanding of how Jondachi uses this structure to tell its story while capturing an audience, we can look at three important moments in the film and see where they fit in this circle of the heroes journey. 

The first step in the hero’s journey is likely the easiest to spot but we’ll talk about it anyways.  It starts off with our main character living his everyday life and talking about his duties.  In this case, it’s fishing and feeding his family.  This is something that is easily understood and, ultimately, is ordinary.  It sets the scene for the rest of the film and gives the viewer a basic platform of information and expectation for the rest of the film.

We’ll skip ahead now to step number 4 and 5.  These two steps work together to take us from the ordinary world to the special world.  In our case of Jondachi, step 4, meeting the mentor happens when we are introduced to the Shaman.  This mentor guides our main character spiritually and this is ultimately what allows us to cross the threshold from the ordinary world into our special world.  This is important as it sets up the second half of the film and of our main Character’s journey.

Our final step in both the heroes journey and the film is returning with Elixir.  In Jondachi, this occurs when our main character gets out of his kayak, hold this special rock in his hand, and looks up to the sky.  We hear the narration say, “I wonder how many boys will never found what I found.”  This is his returning and in our case, the affirmation that he has returned as a man.


Some behind the lens shots of the Drone boys working their magic:



Chaos Theory was my previous whitewater project and it took me to many places creatively.   With starting the initial concepts for Jondachi  I really wanted to get to basics.   This meant exploring a more traditional form of storytelling and exploring Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero With A Thousand Faces’ and traditional mythology.   There was a lot of time dedicated to the initial story concepts and adapting it to a ‘modern’ day reflection on a region and river I loved so much.



Born out of Andean culture, tradition, and shamanism, Jondachi is an old story blended with the modern world of adventure.   I recruited Dan Dixon, a long-time Tena, Ecuador resident, to help me with the overall connections and verifications that the route I was planning with the story were on point. It was an exciting process.  



What made the process all fall into place so well was that Andean mythology, like most mythology, follows the Hero’s Path.  This allowed us to follow and create the story that naturally fell within the boundaries of this traditional story form.

In November 2016 it debuted at Banff Mountain Film Festival during its cultural opening weekend.   It has since gone on to win multiple awards and has been screened all around the world.  In general, it really held a unique place at these festivals and screenings and often people would ask me if it was a true story.   I considered that as a really nice compliment.