Despite the unwieldy title, this is a fascinating and poignant documentary, efficiently packing reams of information into just 20 minutes.
“When you are ready to learn, a teacher will find you.” So says Chicago-born Rosita Arvigo, who moved with her husband to the jungles of Belize to study the thousands of types of medicinal plants there. After much hardship, and just as she was about to give it up, she met Don Elijio Panti, a local “doctor priest” and master of the 5,000-year Mayan tradition of plant medicine. As a gringo, Rosita had much to prove, but eventually gained Panti’s trust and studied with him for ten years. Together, these two natural practitioners raced against time to discover and preserve as many plant species as they could humanly find; the rampaging forces of deforestation continue to torch 96,000 acres of rainforest a day in order to give Ronald McDonald’s cows more grazing land.
For Rosita and Panti, who some might call “witch doctors,” there is no separation between physical and spiritual, natural and supernatural, plants and prayers. It seems a beautiful way to live and look at the world. Elijio Panti died at age 103, which is all the validation his way of life requires.
“Sastun” is a terrifically interesting film. It’s also sad and at times infuriating, a study of one man’s natural genius in the face of overwhelming human shortsightedness and stupidity.