Redemption at the End of the Spear (a review)

January 18, 2006

By Madelyn Ritrosky-Winslow

At the end of the spear lies redemption and forgiveness. It’s the end of the spear as a murderous weapon against fellow human beings. The end of the spear only comes after too many have crossed beyond the gates of splendor.

Word play aside, End of the Spear is an emotional dramatic feature that will be in theaters January 20, 2006. Produced by Every Tribe Entertainment, it just won the Heartland Film Festival’s $50,000 grand prize. Screenwriter and producer Bill Ewing said the money would help them realize a 1200-screen release.

The film is based on tragic real-life events in the Amazon some fifty years ago. What’s also unusual is that it’s a dramatic translation of Every Tribe’s own documentary feature Beyond the Gates of Splendor. That film won a Heartland Crystal Heart Award in 2002, and was just released this month on DVD.

A big news item in 1956 was the murder of five American missionaries (all men) in the remote jungles of Ecuador. But what happened next is what really places this story in the “fact is stranger than fiction” category. Indeed, Every Tribe’s slogan is “truth beyond imagination.”
Ewing said they were impressed by the idea of making documentaries and associated feature films. The idea came from the documentary and feature films about music teacher Roberta Guaspari, Small Wonders (1996) and Music of the Heart (1999), respectively. Ewing told me that Every Tribe’s plans are for documentaries about uplifting stories, with at least some of those to be adapted as dramatic features.

The uplifting part of the Ecuador tragedy is the determination with which the women – the white Americans and the native women – pursued an end to the cycle of violence within which the Waodani men and their tribal enemies were ensnared. American and native women bravely walked into “enemy” territory; they could forgive. The men had to do the same and put an end to the seemingly endless revenge spearing.

The film constructs the men’s journey – rather than the women’s – as the ultimate one. Perhaps this is because the spears were literally in their hands. Perhaps this is because Waodani leader Mincayani (lead actor Louie Leonardo) would become friends with Steve Saint, the son of the man he killed (Steve as an adult played by Chad Allen).

Perhaps this is because Mincayani finally confesses to Steve in a huge test of the power of forgiveness. Nonetheless, decisions by all the women were what changed the course of events and became the examples for the men to follow.

Years after all this tragedy, Mincayani’s confession to Steve and Steve learning to forgive in the deepest sense serve as the climax of the film. In a highly charged scene, Mincayani puts the spear in Steve’s hands and places himself at the end of the spear, arms wide and looking to heaven. Steve fights the almost overwhelming drive to spear him, forgiveness and redemption finally coming at the end of that spear.

Tears were in my eyes at more than one time during this film (and I was not alone). It’s a heart-wrenching story but one that’s ultimately optimistic about the power of forgiveness to heal even the deepest wounds.

The acting was good – all the more incredible when you learn that background and many of the supporting tribal roles were played by non-actors, native people where the film was shot in Panama. But it was Leonardo as Mincayani who, in my opinion, gave an outstanding performance as the proud, strong, troubled Waodani leader. Jack Guzman also has a standout role as Kimo, a fellow Waodani who’s the first man to have the courage to lay down his spear. They are familiar faces from their television and film work.

The director, Jim Hanon, also co-wrote the script with Bill Ewing. Hanon was the writer and director of Beyond the Gates. (Ewing served as executive producer on the documentary.) Prior to Beyond the Gates, Hanon’s directing resumé consisted of commercials and short films. With End of the Spear, Hanon has made an admirable leap to feature films.

So look for End of the Spear in theaters in January.


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