The Shaman's Apprentice is a feature documentary. It was filmed on location in Suriname, South America in February of 1999, in both 16mm and Beta SP. It premiered at the MountainFilm Festival in Telluride, Colorado in May 2001.

I have lately been calculating the number of species that yet remain to be discovered in the great Amazonian forests, from the cataracts of the Orinoco to the mountains of Matto Grosso...there should still remain some 50,000 or even 80,000 species undiscovered"
-- Alred Russel Wallace, Notes of a Botanist of the Amazon and Andes (1908)

Dreaming is providing ourselves with a soul, a jaguar's soul."
--The Origin of Dreams, a Tirio legend

Of particular interest to us is the intersection of science and dreams in the Amazon. The rain forest is both library and laboratory; it is exceedingly rich in biological diversity and its resource potential is largely unexplored. Each technological advance of our age enables the inquiring mind of science to reach further into its secrets. And yet, the oral histories of native peoples and the early European records of the Amazon frequently slip into the territory of the surreal. The landscape, the sounds in the night, and the thick and perfumed air seem to inspire the flowering of the imagination. There, Nature is a full-throated and ever-present being. Whether one hears her speak in the language of genes or of visions, the heart of the Amazon is mystery. Film is the ideal medium to convey this quality.

Gentle reader, after staying a few months in England, I strayed across the Alps and Apennines, and returned home, but could not tarry. Guiana still whispered in my ear, and seemed to invite me once more to wander through her distant forests."
--Charles Waterton (1825)

The country of Suriname is a unique location for a film about the rain forest. Located in the northeast corner of South America, it is perhaps better known- if it is known at all - as the former Dutch colony of Guiana. Most of Suriname's small population lives along the coast, and its forests are relatively undisturbed. Its rivers are wild and unnavigeable, making access very difficult. Its botanical riches are superb and unexploited; species of plants new to the West are continually being discovered. It is highly probable that uncontacted tribes of Stone Age Indians are still roaming the interior.

Alongside its surviving indigenous people lives a truly multi-cultural society, a legacy of Suriname's colonial history. Indentured or enslaved plantation workers were brought into the country from every tropical rain forest region of the planet, and their descendants have remained with many of their traditions intact. One of the most fascinating groups are the Bushnegroes. Their ancestors were African slaves who escaped into the bush and waged a victorious war against the Dutch. Their present-day villages, along rivers deep in the jungle, are a synthesis of West African tribal cultures and the Amazon environment. Mark's colleague and one of the world's greatest living botanists, Frits Van Troon, is a Bushnegro from central Suriname.

When a shaman dies in a pre-literate culture it's like a library burning down. In fact it's worse, because everything that is in the Library of Congress is found elsewhere. When these oral traditions are gone, they are gone forever, there is no bringing them back. And these oral traditions are the key to understanding, utilizing, protecting the rain forest. They are the key to developing new medicine from the rain forest."
--Dr. Mark Plotkin

"We assert that the very course of human culture has been deeply influenced by plants, particularly plants that have been used by indigenous people ... The study of the interaction of plants and people, including the influence of plants on human culture, is the focus of the interdisciplinary field of ethnobotany."
--Michael J. Balick and Paul Cox, Plants, People, and Culture

The last quarter-century has witnessed the ripening of the art and science of ethnobotany. The practitioners of this discipline, once considered dusty and arcane, have become the translators between the ancient world of traditional peoples and those of us who live in completely processed environments. They see, feel, and hear the consequences of human interactions with the natural world. Where diversity is compromised, they have learned, the lives of people become impoverished. Out of necessity, ethnobotanists have become advocates for conservation.

Mark Plotkin is one of the most innovative and outspoken ethnobotanists of this era. Through his scholarly and popular publications, he has contributed greatly to our understanding of the current crisis in the rainforest. The development of his Shaman's Apprentice programs through his organization, The Amazon Conservation Team, has rescued indigenous healing knowledge from the certain fate of extinction. His long and fruitful relationships with the Indian people of Suriname have produced a literal treasure trove of botanical information that will enrich the lives of generations.