Statement from Writer/Director Jim Hanon

I first visited the Huaorani (Waodani) tribe ten years ago with [Producer] Mart Green and Steve Saint. Steve had become a family member to the tribesmen who had speared his father and missionary pilot Nate Saint. We told this story with two films, the documentary, Beyond the Gates of Splendor, and the feature film, End of the Spear. The feature centered on Mincaye, one of the warriors who killed Nate, but who now considered Steve as a son and Steve’s children as his grandchildren.

The Grandfathers focuses on Mincaye’s relationship with Steve’s youngest son, Jesse, and is told from Jesse’s point of view. The story raises many questions, but the one that captivated and compelled me while making the film is the question of dependence and self-determination for the Huaorani.

Many people who identify themselves as Christian have a positive perception of missionaries. However, there are also a great many people who view their influence as being largely negative. Jesse is not a missionary, and he didn’t know how to live up to the legacy left by a heroic grandfather, nor did he want to. That history had shaped his father, but had made no real impact on Jesse’s own life. I was very intrigued to observe how Jesse navigated through the personal issues that lie at the heart of discovering one’s independent identity and purpose.

Jesse was forced to face these difficult issues at the age of 16, when his family left the U.S. to live among the Waodani in the Amazon. It is really hard for anyone to go from a comfortable life in Florida to a life in the jungle among a primitive tribe – but this is especially hard for a teenager. Jesse began to quarrel with his dad and quickly became frustrated and disillusioned. It was at this point that Mincaye befriended him. As time passed, the two became so close that Jesse began calling this Waodani elder “Grandfather”. Only later did Jesse learn that “Grandfather” Mincaye was one of the men who, decades earlier, had killed his grandfather.

As Jesse became part of Mincaye’s family, he began seeing for himself the problems the Waodani have with dependence, and the danger they faced from losing their culture. He experienced Mincaye’s pain as he saw young Waodanis leaving for the bigger cities. Jesse had to come to terms with what it means to respect the ways of the past, as he and Mincaye chose to build a more hopeful future together.

I, personally, have young daughters who are coming of age, and they have had similar struggles to Jesse’s. I think the questions in this story about faith, family, and what it means to find your own place and identity are universal. I know that the issue of whether a person’s faith in God can be a positive influence in their own culture or a major detriment is something many people have serious questions about. I think Jesse’s and Mincaye’s journey helps to bring perspective and understanding. My hope is that their story helps indigenous relations all over the world.

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  • Adiana

    So true. Honesty and everything recognized.