The Ayoreo have people in Bolivia and Paraguay. That’s big enough of a sample size for a film aiming for something big, but Nothing But The Sun chooses a smaller focus. That focus is on Mateo Sobode Chiqueno. He took it upon himself to record the songs and conversations that he has with Ayoreo people. He, by the way, belongs to a generation of Ayoreo who grew up in the 60s. During that decade, Paraguayans took them from their forests and converted them to capitalist, Christian living. The camera really captures these moments, as Mateo and his fellow Ayoreo get personal.
One of Nothing But The Sun‘s best scenes has Mateo recording an Ayoreo woman as she sings a song about either a figurative or literal snake. Eventually, the woman trails off, saying that that’s all she remembers of the song. I’ve always envied people who can memorize songs by heart, but there’s no burden in knowing them because most of the songs we know belong to a mainstream culture. Imagine having to know these songs and passing them down to a generation who might forget. This is the burden of Indigenous people everywhere who keep their culture alive.
Nothing But The Sun‘s early reviews liked the film despite of its tight focus on Mateo and his opinions on the Ayoreo versus white culture debate. Most festival viewers are probably going to agree with Mateo more. The other subjects, on the other hand, have their own nuanced opinions about their assimilation. But there’s still part that of me that wishes these other subjects have more time to parse things out within that nuance. Nonetheless, Mateo still makes for a gripping subject for a documentary. And most viewers can still relate to his desire to come back home.