Bruce Parry is known to a wide audience from his BBC ethnographic documentaries where he has undergone tribal initiation rituals in many different aboriginal cultures. But now he has moved far beyond this with Tawai - a luminous feature film exploring the states of mind of two hunter-gatherer tribes’ spirituality of place in their respective rain forests in the Amazon and Borneo. The title is untranslatable but covers the ideas of Belonging and the sense of Presence within the harmony of the natural world.

Parry handles all the issues with supreme sensitivity. Both communities are under threat from logging for palmoil or oil pipelines; but Parry compares the balanced consciousness they hold within their environment and unbalanced consciousness held by we Westerners who are driving the destruction not merely of their world but our own. He does this with the aid of psychologist Ian McGilchrist whose book on brain hemispheric function, The Master and his Emissary, is a valuable new model for understanding how perception works and how  consciousness and human cultural behaviour interact.

I hope that doesn’t make it sound dry, because the film is incredibly rich in spiritual insight and most sumptuously shot by Mark OFearghail with stunning drone footage of the rain forests and the Kumbh Mela – where Parry goes in search of further understanding, and receives eloquent guidance from sadhus.

Why does this matter? And what would anyone gain from seeing it? Because I have not seen any other film that so clear demonstrates the word-defying experience that lies at the heart of shared consciousness. In this film Parry goes far beyond the permitted bandwidth of TV discourse and gives two peoples under threat from global capitalism the space to show the authenticity of their hunter-gatherer world and their sense of complete and conscious spiritual identification with their natural environment.

For this alone it would be valuable –  I would say among the best 100’ I’ve spent in a cinema – but what is truly impressive is that in his own search for Meaning Parry not only manages to make 'the subtle voices of magic' heard but to present an extraordinarily compassionate and penetrating picture of how the human race is eating itself, destroying the very infrastructure on which life itself depends. Parry blames noone, hectors noone; he simply joins up a tremendous number of the puzzling dots and dashes that dance before contemporary eyes to show anyone with eyes to see what spirituality means in the 21stC and how it cannot be divorced from the environment we all inhabit and compassion for all lifeforms.

Bruce Parry is touring the film in cinemas at present. I saw it in a packed cinema in Glastonbury. Visit www.Tawai.earth to find where it’s on near you or to consider organising a showing yourself. It is about being present and compassionate in the world.   

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