Down to Earth- the documentary -learning from the earth keepers.

How on earth does one escape the rat-race-  the mundane materialism of suburban living?   That was the question on the minds of The Winters family, who lived in England with their three young children, aged six, three and one.  One day, they took the risk and stepped out of it on a quest to find out what life should really be about. They moved to a forest in North America, built a house and grew their own vegetables for 4 years, until they met Nowatan, a Native American Medicine man and Earthkeeper.  After many visits with him they were inspired to find more “wisdom keepers” around the world and record their messages.  They had not initially set out to make a film,  but they have succeeded in making one with a lot of heart.  “Down to Earth”, is a powerful heartfelt documentary in which  Nowatan holds the central narrative.  He had inspired them to collect the wisdom of the earth’s keepers around the world so they followed their guidance.

“Initially we had no idea how to manifest such a huge quest. A year of research followed and slowly but surely the necessary pieces started to fall into place, including the funding for the journey we were about to embark on. We decided to travel around the world for a year, together with our children, now 10, 7 and 6. No crew, no production team, one backpack and a camera each.” Rolf and Renata explain.


Before our journey we considered various geographical area’s on different continents where we believed we would find people who have retained a natural balance and live in harmony with their surroundings. There was no shortlist or even names when we set out on our journey. We decided intuitively who to film as they came onto our path travelling around the world. In most cases, they were not keen to be filmed and some were very much against the idea at first. But as we spend more time with them, living as a family in their midst, the trust grew and ultimately they all embraced the idea.”  The Winters family explain on their website.

So they set off for the most remote places, to visit the aboriginal people, the Bushmen, the native Americans, the people of the jungles and the peoples of the deserts, the Mongolians and the Masai. They lived and cooked with them and their children played with their children.  This is how they learned their ways and won their trust.

When one realizes that one is not satisfied, one must become a Seeker.  Not for someone else’s truth, but your own.” Explains the Nowaton the gentle Native American Elder, who is a central character holding together the narrative of the documentary.

“To live better, we must reconnect with the source,” Says Sumpa, from Ecuador,  a shamanic leader living in the jungle.  His people live the simple life and are happy with what they have, but unfortunately, the forest is under threat because people with business interests insist that they want more, even though they have so much already.


Urban consumer lifestyles, overpopulation and economics are causes for a general loss of connection with the earth among many city dwellers around the world. This disconnection is a cause for many of the imbalances and diseases that we see today in our environment, bodies, minds and spirits.

The tragedy is that all around the world the tribal peoples, who hold the deepest wisdom about these ancient earth-centred earth keeping ways are disappearing, as their land is encroached on for political and economic reasons and their resources diminished.

The painful twist in this tale is that historically, in most of the places the Winters family visited, the tribal peoples, the original teachers, the earth’s first peoples have experienced brutal genocide at the hands of colonialists, who used unbelievably inhumane violent methods to wipe out as many of them as possible, in order to take control of the natural resources where they lived.  The result has been a physical displacement from their traditional homelands, resulting in a deep psychological ancestral tribal wounding, creating a disillusionment in humanity, depression and addiction and a general loss of personal power and identity for many subsequent modern generations of these tribes.

To make it worse, in Australia and America, after the genocide, the children of the Aboriginal and Native American tribes were sent to colonial boarding schools where they were not allowed to speak their own languages or were adopted into white families, thus losing touch with the wisdom and wise, earth-centred culture of their ancestors.  In South Africa, brutal methods were used to kill the Bushman children and many who remained in the Western Cape were wiped out by a smallpox epidemic. The stories of displacement, disempowerment and lack of acknowledgement echo through the fabric of South African society are still raw as ever, as the bushmen people I met at the Cape Town Castle explained.  (These people walk an annual tribal pilgrimage of peaceful protest to create awareness, acknowledgement, healing and empowerment for themselves in their tribal identity. (See link above to my blog about this for more insight.)

The tribal tragedies at the hands of colonialists in South Africa echo the shocking things that happened in America, where smallpox-infected blankets were deliberately gifted to the tribes often at the time of the signing of treaties as a form of underhanded bio-warfare.  An ancient Native American prophecy says that the sins of the fathers will be visited on the sons for 7 generations. This belief should affect the decisions one makes in every moment, because your actions will affect your grandchildren for 7 generations.

What makes my gut wrench, is that all this ruthless violence and suppression was done in the name of what was termed “progress.”    Colonial imperialists believed that they were doing the “right thing” teaching” Christian values” to what they called “savages.”  They performed savage acts to tame the “savages.”  History has hidden the shame of this.  We are embarrassed by the behaviour of those people, but it must be acknowledged for healing to take place. Yet they had their “reality” of what they needed to do to “survive” and make “progress” and that is what drove them to carry out their deeds.  Perhaps it came from their ancestral ways of conquering new places- it was a pirate- like thuggish viking approach.  That was their “normal.”

In the film, we are told by an Irish pagan woman that we are all connected.  So if we work to heal ourselves, we are healing the fabric of the whole.  One must honour the ancestors of the past and the future by honouring one’s self.  Again, when one chooses to change the pattern and take a step to heal one’s soul, one helps heal generations into the future as well as the past.  Click on this link for a simple explanation of the concept of healing future and past generations this way.

I believe that the deepest irony of all this is that in this time of crazy materialism, there are many people like the Winters family setting off from places like England in search of true wisdom from the earth’s native tribes.

If climate change and the earth’s shifts knock us all out of our comfort zone, and if we find ourselves in some post-apocalyptic place, where we have to learn to forage and hunt and gather again.  Who will be the best people to teach us how?  Who will be the best survivors?  It would be the native tribes who still live close to the earth and know her ways and her seasons, and how to tune into nature properly, to smell and hear and track the signs she is giving us in order to be able to hunt and forage, and live in true community.  However, these last few survivors of the earth’s first peoples who still hold this knowledge, live in the edgy places which are most vulnerable to the ravages of climate change.  Many have also been threatened by political and economic powers, who are pushing them out of their remaining territories.  This is why it is so important to learn the skills and the wisdom from the earth keepers and medicine people now.

Down to Earth gives these rare and isolated earth keepers a voice, and documents it for perpetuity.  Interestingly the people interviewed for the film in all the five continents, have such a similar message.  They speak with one voice.  The voice of wisdom which says, “We are part of nature.  We are part of the web of life.  If we destroy that web we destroy ourselves.”  The reason the people in all the different parts of the world are saying the same things is that they listen to nature, and understand her ways.

Down to Earth directed and produced by Rolf Winters & Renata Heinen won the Jury Award for Best Film at the 2015 Illuminate Film Festival. Each screening of the film is accompanied by a facilitated dialogue, which gives the audience an opportunity to examine what they felt while watching the film and discuss how these ideas can become ways to make a difference.

I attended a screening recently with a discussion afterwards facilitated by Mycellium Media Collab. It was interesting to see how the audience responded to the film.  One well-travelled audience member pointed out that in affluent countries, like America, the general attitude of people living in big cities was that there was an unquestionable endless supply of all one’s basic immediate needs.  Despite what they may have been told, people living there take for granted that food, water, electricity are in bountiful supply,  and there is no immediate reason to be mindful of using these resources sparingly.

Whereas In Cape Town, only after we had a threatening water crisis, were we awakened to the new normal of re-using the water from our short shower in the next flush of the toilet, for example.  (Most South Africans have also adjusted to the possibility of power failures, due to a shortfall of electricity supply and regular black-outs.  This teaches us to enjoy candlelit dinners, and cook over flames.  It’s not the end of the world, unless you live in a house with an electric gate, and you can’t get out when you need to!)

The chief of the Masai people proudly pointed to his forest and said that it was rich with life and it remained so because his people took pride in taking care of it.  That is the basic common sense of one who is the custodian of the land.  Look after nature and she will look after you, besides, “If they cut down all the trees, who will speak for the birds?” he asked.

Urbanized people typically get out of touch with nature, they forget that they are just as much part of the web of life as the trees, the birds and the fleas.  We have to humble ourselves and realize that, or we are in for a shocking surprise, which is bound to jolt us out of our comfort zones one way or another.  However, it is also possible to integrate nature into city life.  Remembering nature by re-naturalizing our environment and creating resilience, one step at a time.

A facilitated dialogue follows the screening again every Sunday evening in May at The Labia theatre Cape Town, with team members from Mycelium Media Colab.  Check the Facebook page of Down to Earth Film to find a screening near you.

Mycelium Media Colab is an emerging collaborative enterprise that uses storytelling to help motivate individuals to co-create a more regenerative and healthy world.  

If you would like to help get the messages of the earth’s wisdom-keepers documented for perpetuity, help support the filmmakers in completing an educational series based on more of the footage they shot on their adventure.

I believe that the messages of the earth keepers are particularly relevant at this time of great environmental crisis on earth.  Perhaps it is time for the famous and controversial ancient prophecy of the Whirling Rainbow to reach it’s fulfilment, as well as the Native American prophecy of the Seventh Fire.

“In the time of the Seventh Fire, a New People would emerge. They would retrace their steps to find the wisdom that was left by the side of the trail long ago. Their steps would take them to the elders, who they would ask to guide them on their journey. If the New People remain strong in their quest, the sacred drum will again sound its voice. There will be an awakening of the people, and the sacred fire will again be lit. At this time, the light-skinned race will be given a choice between two roads. One road is the road of greed and technology without wisdom or respect for life. This road represents a rush to destruction. The other road is spirituality, a slower path that includes respect for all living things. If we choose the spiritual path, we can light yet another fire, an Eighth Fire, and begin an extended period of Peace and healthy growth.”– Grandfather William Commanda, Circle of All Nations Prophecy of the Seven Fires of the Anishnabe, From Ancient Wampum Belt”

One thought on “Down to Earth- the documentary -learning from the earth keepers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.