Fifty years ago this month, five young missionaries were killed by an Ecuadorian tribe known to the world as the Auca Indians. Auca means savage. The tribe called itself, then and now, the Waodani. The real story isn't only the death of those five young men. It is also the incredible reconciliation that took place not long after, as relatives of the dead men returned to offer love and peace to the very people who had murdered their loved ones.
That incident and that reconciliation have been told in a remarkable new film to be released in 1,200 theaters this weekend. It's called "End of the Spear" and it is the finest film of its kind I have seen.
This isn't one of those liberal sob stories one hears in a debate about capital punishment. This is about the power of true forgiveness. It is unlike anything one sees in contemporary culture. Beautifully photographed in the rainforests of Panama, because the remote Waodani village in Ecuador could not sustain a film crew, "End of the Spear" uses Panamanian actors, who were coached by Waodani warriors brought in for the project. Some of those warriors also appear in the film.
"End of the Spear" is so moving you will not believe that it is director Jim Hanon's first feature film. Every Tribe Entertainment, (www.everytribe.com), the production company behind it, was founded by Oklahoma City businessman Mart Green, who grew up in a home so conservative he had never been to a movie theater. When Green heard Steve Saint tell the story of his father and the other missionaries who were speared to death in 1956 and saw Saint introduce "Mincaye," the man who killed Saint's father, Nate, he immediately saw the power in putting the story on film. As long as we are talking firsts, this is the first feature film by Every Tribe Entertainment and it is the first time the story has been told from the perspective of the Waodani. It is rated PG-13 for violence, but it is violence necessary to the story.
Director Hanon says the Waodani at first refused to cooperate, but when he told them about violence in American culture, like the Columbine shootings, they decided to participate. In a promotional DVD for the movie, Mincaye says, "The foreigners are living as angry and violent as we once did. But they could be living well. We changed. The foreigners (can change), too."
Does reconciliation work? Shortly after the missionaries were killed, the wife of one of the slain men and the sister of another went to live with the tribe. Within two years, the tribal homicide rate had dropped more than 90 percent. That beats any "tough on crime" approach in the United States.
Among the many remarkable ingredients in this film is that with the exception of the handful of American actors, the rest of the actors are amateurs. But the performances by the Panamanian Indians are as good and as convincing as anything you'll see coming from a professional cast.
All films carry messages ("Brokeback Mountain" is not just a movie about cowboys). In recent years, with some notable exceptions, many of those messages have appealed to our lower nature. "End of the Spear" is not only a true story, but also a compelling one. For those, like me, who have longed to go to movies that are uplifting instead of bottom feeding, this is one of the best.
"End of the Spear" is the latest in a steadily growing number of films that are taking on culture on its own turf. Instead of cursing darkness, more independent producers are beginning to make good movies (do not confuse "good" in content with bad in execution) containing positive messages.
This is a story that is not only worth retelling, but is worth emulating. A liberal neighbor of mine has a sign in his yard that reads, "War is not the answer." We can debate that, but we can't debate reconciliation as the answer. It works, as this marvelous movie so beautifully and breathtakingly demonstrates.