Maya Directors to Headline Film Festival at OU

November 3, 2023
Photographs of Luz Vázquez and María Sojob
Luz Vázquez and María Sojob

Explore Mesoamerica through a Mayan Film Festival this November at OU! There will be two events: a showing of two short films with a panel discussion featuring the screenwriter of one short, and a week later there will be a screening of a feature-length documentary followed by a Q&A with the film’s director. There will be subtitles in English for all films and receptions after each event. 

Join us on Monday, November 6th at 7pm in the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation Auditorium in Gaylord Hall for a showing of two short films in Mayan languages: The Chuj Boys of Summer, about an Indigenous Chuj boy who moves to Colorado from Guatemala, winner of the South by Southwest Special Jury Award in 2021, and  Campesino, the story of a family's struggle after the death of the father in a Ch'ol community in southern Mexico. There will be a panel discussion with Dr. Justin Royer (UC Berkeley, linguistics) and  Dr. Carol Rose Little (OU, Linguistics), both specialists in the Mayan languages of the shorts, and Luz Vázquez, screenwriter of  Campesino.

Vázquez is from Yajalón, Mexico and grew up speaking Ch’ol. Her motivations to write the script for Campesino came from her father: 

What mainly me to create Campesino was to share a little of my father's story. Furthermore, it was important to create something in my language because I had never seen a film in Ch'ol. With this short film I knew I could reach more people and let them know that our language is valuable and that we can make any type of art with our language. 

On Wednesday, November 15th at 3pm in the Robert S. Kerr Auditorium at the Sam Noble Museum,  we will have a special screening of Tote/Abuelo, a feature-length documentary in the Tsotsil Maya language about identity, family and indigeneity in Mexico. This documentary won awards such as the the Ambulante Special Award for a Mexican Feature-Length Documentary and Best Mexican Documentary made by a woman in 2019 at the Morelia International Film Festival. The film's director, María Sojob, will be at the showing for a Q&A with the audience after the screening.  

Sojob is from Chenalhó, a Tsotsil community in southern Mexico. Sojob speaks and works in Tsotsil, a Mayan language spoken by over a half million people in Mexico and diaspora communities across North America.  

I asked Sojob what motivated her to make the documentary about her grandfather, or tote in Tsotsil. She explained: 

The first motivation was to leave a record—both visual and auditory—of my grandfather's life, and above all, his work making traditional hats. I made it when I did because he was sick and going blind; time was passing very quickly. As he began to age, he was no longer the grandfather who used to scare me. Instead he inspired a tenderness in me, a need to get to know him and establish a relationship with him. That need led me to convince him to let me record our interactions. Through visiting him, many questions arose: why didn’t I have a close relationship with my grandfather, with my home territory, with my life in that community? The only link I had was the Tsotsil language, which, despite years of oppression continues to live on. 

Between different territories—Maya and non-Maya—and between different languages—Spanish and Tsotsil—the story and the film are woven together and seek to find answers about affection, emotions, and love. The fabric of the hat becomes the metaphor that connects these worlds and, little by little, weaves together the answers. 

We are delighted that Sojob will be in Oklahoma for three days in November. I asked her what she is looking forward to during her visit, and she responded: 

I look forward to being able to share the film with those in Oklahoma, to rediscover the questions that made it possible through an outside lens and with people who want to experience the images and sounds of another territory, another world that is similar in some ways, but also different in others. I hope that they too can feel the threads of language that connect us all.  

A flyer for the event


Carol Rose Little is an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Oklahoma. She works with Ch’ol, a Mayan language of southern Mexico. In addition to her linguistic research with Ch’ol, she co-translates poetry from Ch’ol to English and has worked as a Ch’ol-English interpreter in California criminal court.