Film List: Indigenous Religions

The list of recommended films below includes documentaries, biographies, interviews, and historical overviews of non-missionizing religions and spiritual practices across the Americas and Afro-Eurasia. Please note that GEORGE catalogue links may require login using your GU net ID and password. If you would like to recommend films to be added to the list, please contact us.

Projects and Series

BBC Disappearing Worlds Series. Eg. Witchcraft among the Azande, 1982.

Witchcraft practices among the Azande continue in spite of their acceptance of Christianity, useful for adjudicating disputes, curing illness.

Faces of Culture. Eg. Religion & Magic, 1994. Abrams, Ira R; Brosnan, Peter; Carradine, David.

Studies the ritual of Eka Dasa Rudro, a rare Balinese ceremony which links the three worlds of gods, people, and demons.Balinese (Indonesian people), Religion.

Eg. Highland Maya: A Case Study in Economic Anthropology, 1994. Abrams, Ira R; Carradine, David; Harden, Sandee; Taylor, Anne Robinson.

Explores the complex interweaving of economics and religion known as the “cargo” system, which is found among the Highland Maya of Mexico and Guatemala.

Fire on the Mountain: A Gathering of Shamans, 1999. Cherniack, David.

Documents global conference of indigenous spiritual leaders at a Buddhist monastery in the French Alps. Shamans & elders from Asia, Africa, the Americas.

Four Religions of India. Ashes in the River, 1995; Hinduism: Faith, Festivals, and Rituals, 2006; Jainism: Ascetics and Warriors. New York Films Media Group.

Samsara, 2013. Magidson, Mark and Fricke, Ron.

2-part documentary filmed over five years in 25 countries on ecology, worship interconnections.

Standing on Sacred Ground, 2013. McLeod, Christopher.

“Eight Cultures – One Fight. In this 4-part series, indigenous people from eight different cultures stand up for their traditional sacred lands in defense of cultural survival, human rights and the environment.” Titles in series:

Pilgrims and Tourists: In the Altai Republic of Russia and in Northern California, indigenous shamans resist massive government projects that threaten nature and culture.

Profit and Loss: From Papua New Guinea to the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, native people fight the loss of land, water, and health to mining and oil industries.

Fire and Ice: From the Gamo Highlands of Ethiopia to the Andes of Peru, indigenous highland communities battle threats to their forests, farms, and faith.

Islands of Sanctuary: Aboriginal Australians and Native Hawaiians reclaim land from the government and the military, and resist the erosion of culture and environment.

Individual Films

Ahimsa, non-violence, 2009. Tobias, Michael; Hunt, Marion; Wagner, Lindsay.

Alms: Jing shi, 2009. Burger, Edward A and Liebman, Eric.

Part of the Dreaming Buddhas project. The Head Chef of the remote mountain Chan/Zen Buddhist monastery in Southern China explains traditional cultivation, distribution and ritual offerings. Agriculture, Religious aspects.

Altar of Fire, 2005. Gardner, Robert, and Staal, Frits.

Documents the last performance of the Agnicayana, the world’s oldest surviving sacrificial ritual, enacted by the Nambudiri Brahmins of southwestern India. Religious aspects, Hindu music, Hinduism.

Angry Monk: Reflections on Tibet, 2009. Schaedler, Luc; Namling, Loten; Sarbacher, Thomas; Hayes, Phil.

Examines the life of Gendun Choepel, a Tibetan monk who left the monastery to become a fierce critic of Tibet’s religious conservatism and cultural isolationism.

Amongst White Clouds: Buddhist Hermit Masters of China’s Zhongnan Mountains, 2007. Burger, Edward A; Pankewitz, Chad; Porter, Bill.

American director Edward A. Burger documents his journey in the Zhongnan Mountains.

Brilliant Moon: Glimpses of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, 2011. Neten Chokling, Tenzing Choyang Gyari; Gere, Richard; Reed, Lou; Bstan-ʼdzin-rgya-mtsho, Dalai Lama XIV, 1935.

Chronicles the life of writer, poet, and meditation master Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and his students.

Brujo, 2007. Viallon, Claudine and Payrastre, Georges.

Documentary featuring brujos, or shamans, in curing ceremonies. The film is divided into three sequences. Mayas, Traditional medicine.

Compassion in Exile: The Story of the 14th Dalai Lama, 2005. Lemle, Mickey.

Presents a biographical sketch of Tibet’s fourteenth Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile for over 40 years but continues to be the spiritual leader of his Tibetan people.

Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, 1998. Deren, Maya; Genke, John; Itō, Cherel; Itō, Teiji; Pape, Joan.

Documentary look at the Voodoo religions of Haiti by Maya Deren, a Voudoun initiate who was able to take her camera and recorder where few have gone before or since. Voodooism.

Edge of Dreaming, 2010. Amy Hardie.

Set in Scotland, with indigenous American healer angle.

Eyes of Stone, 1990. Vachani, Nilita.

A film about rural women in Bhilwara, Rajasthan and their rituals of possession and exorcism. Spiritual healing, spirit possession, spiritual life, women.

The Great Spirit within the Hole, 1983. Sampson, Will; Sainte-Marie, Buffy; Spotted Eagle, Chris.

Focuses on American Indians in the nation’s prisons and tells that Indian spiritual leaders are often denied entry to prisons to commune with their people. Freedom of religion, Indian mythology.

Healers of Ghana, 2005. Dodds, J. Scott.

Medical practices of the Bono people of central Ghana and how their healers are accommodating conflict.

In the Light of Reverence, 2010. McLeod, Christopher; Abbe, Jessica; Parrinello, Will; Herbst, Jon; Coyote, Peter; Cardinal, Tantoo.

Across the USA, Native Americans are struggling to protect their sacred places. Religious freedom, so valued in America, is not guaranteed to those who practice land-based religions.

In Pursuit of the Siberian Shaman, 2006. Bernstein, Anya.

See a preview of the film here.

Initiation Kut for a Korean Shaman, 1991. Diana Lee; Laurel Kendall.

“Chini, at 32, finds herself in an unfortunate state—unmarried, without a job—and makes the decision to become a professional shaman.”

Join Me in Shambhala, 2004. Bernstein, Anya.

An incarnate Tibetan lama travels to remote villages in the Buryatia, Russia hoping to re-awaken Buddhism which was repressed under the communist regime.

Magic and Catholicism, 2007, 2009. Smith, Hubert; Miller, Norman N.; Reichline, Neil.

From the “Faces of Change” series: Bolivia, Aymara. The people of the Bolivian highlands are shown practicing both their Christian faith and the religion of their ancestors.

Mammy Water: In Search of the Water Spirits in Nigeria, 1989. Arthur, Donald; Francis, Cassandra; Scott, Jean; Jell-Bahlsen, Sabine.

Features Mammy Water rituals and interviews with Igbo and Ijaw devotees and their leaders.

The Necessities of Life (Ce qu’il faut pour vivre), 2008. Pilon, Benoît.

Inuit hunter in ‘white’ hospital.

The Mystic’s Journey, 2003. Smith, Huston; Hartley, Irving; Hartley, Elda.

Put together over 30 years of travel and studies by Huston Smith, best-selling author.

Origins of Yoga: Quest for the Spiritual, 2005. Paradise Film.

Pomo shaman, 1964. Heick, William R.

Important classic shows Essie Parrish, the spiritual head of the Kashia Indian community, southwestern Pomo Indian sucking doctor. Pomo Indians, Parrish, Essie.

The Priest and the Nganga: The Traditional Medicine of Douala, 1992. Gottraux, Pierre and de Rosny, Éric.

Traditional African ceremonies performed to cure the ill.

Satya, a Prayer for the Enemy, 2005. Bruno, Ellen; Finlayson, Elizabeth Mason; Chogkhan, Pema.

This film focuses on personal testimonies of Tibetan Buddhist nuns who have taken the lead in this resistance by fearlessly staging courageous demonstrations. Buddhist nuns, women, political activists.

Shamanism, Past and Present, Parts 1-2, 1994. Hoppál, Mihály. Budapest Ethnographic Institute.

Review of shamans in Siberia, with rare field footage and interviews with experts.

The Shaman’s Apprentice, 2001. Plotkin, Mark J; Sarandon, Susan; Smith, Miranda; Wright, Abigail.

“Even worse, the tribal shamans—healers and encyclopedias of rain forest botany—are the Amazon’s most endangered species…” Ethnobotany, rainforests, traditional medicine, healers.

Sorcerers of Zaire, 2006. Dodds, J. Scott and Cannon, Harold.

Rural Chokwe tribe of southwestern Zaire, where hardship and starvation are a way of life.

Surviving Columbus, 1992. Agoyo, Herman; Parrington, Chris; Reyna, Diane; Sando, Joe; Swentzell, Rina; Walsh, Larry.

Uses stories from Pueblo elders, interviews with Pueblo scholars and leaders, archival photographs. Pueblo Indians, Ethnic identity.

Teachings of the Tree People: The Work of Bruce Miller, 2013, PBS, National Geographic.

“Set on the Skokomish Tribal Reservation and the cedar forests of the Pacific Northwest, the film is an moving personal story, [encouraging] discussions about Native American art, culture, education, environment, food, medicine, aging, tradition and change, veterans issues and more.”

Taoism, 1981. Blofeld, John Eaton Calthorpe and Hartley, Elda.

With scenes of contemporary China as a background, author John Blofeld gives the essence of Taoism.

Time of Dreams, 1982, 1987. Andris Slapins, Eduard Alekseyev, Elena Novik Moscow.

This classic, impressionistic art film has some of the most important historical footage of Siberia shot in the 20th century, covering Yakutia, Chukotka, Altai region and Amur.

To the Land of Bliss, 2007. Qin, Wen-jie.

Focusing on the post-Mao revival of Buddhism in China, the filmmaker offers an intimate portrayal of the Chinese Pure Land Buddhist way of living and dying.

Tibet, a Buddhist Trilogy, 2006. Coleman, Graham and Lascelles, David.

An exploration of Tibetan Buddhist culture, from a portrait of the Dalai Lama to a revelation of the mystical inner world of monastic life.

Unmistaken Child, 2009. Nati Baratz, PBS.

Journey of Tibetan Buddhist monk Tenzin Zopa as he travels in gorgeous Nepal and India to identify the child who is the reincarnation of his deceased master.

Voodoo and the Church in Haiti, 1988. Augustin, Joe; Buckley, Robert; Cullers, Terry; Leland, Andrea E; Richards, Bob. U. of CA.

Film depicts the history and influence of voodoo [vodou] in Haiti, presenting the people, the religion and rituals, and the inclusion of Christian images.

Walking with Buddha, 1996, 2008. Maryknoll.

This program, filmed in Thailand, looks at the life of the Buddha and traces the development of Buddhism in various countries.

Wheel of Time, 2005. Stipetić, Lucki and Herzog, Werner.

Acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog’s gorgeously photographed look at the largest Buddhist ritual in Bodh Gaya, India. Kālacakra (Tantric rite).