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Jurgens' Guatemala

Identifier: Film Collection no. 199

Scope and Contents

This unedited footage was produced to document life in the Chuchumatanes highlands of Guatemala. The Mayan people of Atitlan were chosen by Victor J. Jurgens, a professional filmmaker, because they seemed to have maintained their traditional ways and to be independent of the cultures around them. This same tendency, however, caused them to be so aloof as to make filming with any intimacy virtually impossible. The film opens with a family burning incense on a hill to ensure a good crop. One of the two women carries a baby on her back while also holding bags and baskets. This is followed by views of the village, with its white stucco buildings and tile roofs, and the village square, dominated by a white stucco church. On market day, among women, children playing, and roaming livestock, items for sale, such as watches, handbags, beads and foodstuffs are displayed. A procession features the statue of a crowned saint, which is borne through the square on a white palanquin. Musicians playing marimbas and beating sticks accompany the procession, and rockets are fired. All of the women wear embroidered cotton blouses and full cotton skirts, while the men sport traditional white pants, black tunics, striped shirts and scarves, and straw hats. In the next sequence women wash their laundry by pounding it on stones in a stream. Some women pick and shell beans as men carry huge loads of harvested corn by head bands called tumplines. Boys gather chilacayotes (large, green squash) and take them to a woman who is chopping and cooking squash in a pot outside a wattle-and-daub house. In indoor scenes, a man rubs a dark liquid on himself, while a woman grinds corn on a stone, and several people sit around the smokey hearth. Music is provided by men playing the violin and guitar. Tortillas are cooked on a hot stone. At a candle lit table, a chimane (soothsayer or prayermaker), divines by moving beans around a flat cloth. He addresses the family sitting at the table, motions with his hands and is presented a small white candle, which he lights; then smoke swirls about him. The film ends just as it started with the family burning incense on the hill.


  • 1954

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Not available through interlibrary loan. Contact AMNH Library Special Collections for terms of access.


1 Film Reel (50 minutes) : silent, black and white ; 35 mm.

1 Videocassette (U-Matic (50 minutes)) : silent, black and white ; 3/4 in.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

3/4 in., U-Matic, viewing copy


Original format: 35 mm. print; incomplete.



Victor J. Jurgens, producer, director, and photographer.

Jurgens' Guatemala, 1954
Iris Lee
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Museum Archives at the Gottesman Research Library Repository

American Museum of Natural History
200 Central Park West
New York NY 10024 USA
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