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‘Yakona’ is a visually stunning homage to the San Marcos River

Matthew Odam
modam@statesman.com

Filmmakers Paul Collins and Anlo Sepulveda pay homage to the San Marcos River in the lush nature documentary “Yakona,” which bowed at the Paramount Theatre Tuesday. The downstairs was packed with San Marcos residents, including an impressive Native American contingency, which obviously had a rooting interest in the movie about the ancient river that many in the audience are working to protect and honor.

The film opens with some intense NASA footage of the earth and a bubbling sun, which served as a metaphor for the creation. Scenes move from the enormous to the intimate, as the camera gives an underwater view of clear rushing water. The implication made clear by one of the director’s at the films end is that Mother Earth’s water has broken in the form of the creation of the spring-fed San Marcos River.

“Yakona,” a Coahuiltecan word meaning “water rising,” spends much of its time in the water, marveling at aquatic life and revealing the beauty and power of nature. Viewers will be reminded of the nature porn in Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life.”

With no dialogue in the film, the movie paints an impressionistic picture of the river’s history and its threats from industrialization and commercialism. The history of the land and river – one of the oldest inhabited places in North America – is told through abstract images of settlers battling with Native Americans and spooky stock footage of tours at the former Aquarena Springs amusement park.

The filmmakers obviously have a deep reverence and concern for the river, and the tone shifts from elegiac to somber as the crystal waters turn murky. The movie ends on a note of inspiration and optimism, which seems to imply that efforts are being made to restore the river, but that message came across more clearly in the Q&A than the actual film. “Yakona” is a visually stunning piece of ambitious filmmaking, though the storytelling sometimes suffers from ambiguity and an overreliance on images alone.