• The documentary Awavena has just won an Emmy award.
  • Made in collaboration with the Yawanawa people, it uses Virtual Reality to explore the journey of the first female shaman of the community.
  • Director Lynette Wallworth also won an Emmy for her earlier work, Collisions.

Sometimes the right thing happens for the right reason. This week our team won an Emmy Award for Outstanding New Approaches to Documentary. As the Director of this work I am overjoyed but in truth my heart is filling not for me but for what this recognition means for the Yawanawa people whose story this is, whose concept this was and whose invitation gave Producer Nicole Newnham and me the opportunity to realise a vision.

Awavena exists because of a series of wonderfully connected events that led first to the creation of Collisions, a VR work we made at the invitation of the World Economic Forum and presented at the Annual Meeting in Davos in 2016. Collisions is the story of Nyarri Morgan, a Martu man whose first contact with Western culture came in the form of an horrific apparition. Pre contact and with no context, Nyarri's world view was shattered by the sight of a British atomic test in the South Australian outback.

In Davos, Nyarri's story created its own reverberations and it travelled the globe shaking open doors and impacting hearts at the UN in New York and Vienna, at Parliament House Canberra, and at forums on disarmament in Washington.

In one of those fateful gatherings, at another of our fearless supporters, the Skoll World Forum in Oxford, an Amazonian Chief I had met put on the headset and experienced Collisions. That was Tashka Yawanawa. In one instant Tashka saw the way Virtual Reality could be wrangled into a use it had not been designed for, to give a sensation of the vision state the Yawanawa practice. He said “I understand these glasses, they act like visioning medicine. They open a portal, they carry you without your body to a place you have never been, you meet the elders, you are given a message and then you return to your reality. We can use this. My friend, you will have to come to the Amazon. We have a story we want to share.”

Director Lynette Wallworth, with Tashka, Chief of the Yawanawa
Director Lynette Wallworth, with Tashka, Chief of the Yawanawa

That was the beginning of Awavena. The World Economic Forum supported this impossible venture from the start. All along we knew we would bring Awavena to Davos and jointly premiere it there and at Sundance, just as we had done with Collisions. In Davos, the World Economic Forum hosted Tashka, his wife Laura and Shaman Hushahu, whose story sits at the heart of the work. These are peoples who were enslaved by the rubber tapping industry from the 1940s onward, these are people who lost and had to fight to reclaim their lands, people who were prevented from speaking their own language, from carrying out their own long-held rituals by the missionaries who took moral authority over spiritual practices that had sustained the Yawanawa through generations.

These are people who were brought to the edge of extinction. These same people saw that a technology we have developed might help us see the world as they see it, and within that world view, sat a powerful story they thought might help.

This was the story of how they had righted the gender imbalance that at one time affected every leadership role in their culture. It holds a message of hope about what happened when they threw open every avenue of leadership to women and created balance. “Change the leaders and you change everything.” That is the story they wanted to share.

Emmy award Awavena
Shaman Hushahu: The documentary explores changing gender roles among the Yawanawa

So this week sitting in my Air BNB apartment in Sydney waiting for the announcement of who won the Emmy I had a secret small hope, that I might one day see an image of that beautiful golden statue on the prow of a Yawanawa canoe heading down the River Gregorio to the Yawanawa’s forest home.

It is no small thing that Chief Tashka wrote in his messages about winning the award this week…

"Our people believe in goodness, we believe in God through the force of Nature. We are guided by our Shamans, our spiritual guides. Not all is lost. It's a dream come true. The forest is partying because its message was sent to the world and heard.”

Sometimes the right thing happens for the right reason.