Sunday, January 04, 2015

First-Ever "Sombras en la Noche" Paraguayan Online Film Festival

Werewolves that feed on corpses in old cemeteries, shape-shifting creatures that kidnap children and turn them into dunces, and an Incubus creature that can slip in during siesta impregnate sleeping young women -- these are just a few of the very interesting Paraguayan mythological figures that populated the classic 90s television series, Sombras en la Noche. A stunning commercial success when it aired in Paraguay, the series was the brainchild of director Carlos Tarabal. Because the series was based on the folklore of the Guaranis who live in Paraguay, and its stories very authentic, received numerous accolades and commendations from the Paraguayan government.

Now, 20 years later, the  original episodes are available on YouTube, and the website for Sombras en la Noche contains links to all the episodes, as well as a guide to the main mythological creatures found in Guarani folklore. They include the Luison, the Pombero, Jasy Jatere, and other myths having to do with ghosts, creatures, and buried treasure.

sombras en la noche -- paraguay - guarani
Sombras en la Noche: A classic television series based on Guarani folk creatures in Paraguay
Carlos Tarabal, a Uruguayan who, according to various interviews, has lived in Paraguay for 34 years, championed the original effort. It was stunningly popular. The fact that it was shot as though it were a reality series or a documentary made it all the more convincing, especially in the rural parts of Paraguay.
Carlos Tarabal: Creator of Sombras de la Noche and the Online Film Festival
The fact that the episodes are available on YouTube makes it quite amenable for incorporating them in e-learning and m-learning activities, including culture, myth, literature, film, and language studies. The episodes are subtitled in Spanish.

It would be quite interesting to develop lessons around comparing vampires, werewolves, zombies and other creatures with the Paraguayan ones, and also to see how they are represented in Sombras en la Noche, vs. in other television series. One that comes to mind is Grimm, which does in fact have an episode that features a "luison," but it is a rather silly one (in comparison with the horrifying cadaver-eating seventh-son wolf figure, the Paraguayan luison). The Pombero is featured in Ares Cronica, which gives quite a bit of background.

Episode from "Sombras en la Noche" (Shadows in the Night):  Suspected Luisón

Luisón (photo credit:
A cemetery ripe for Luisón predation and pillaging (photo credit:
A personal note:  I had not been to Paraguay in 15 years (so hard to believe!), and was very eager to visit again, particularly since I had traveled to Paraguay many times during the late 90s, and was involved in a wide range of cultural and commercial exchanges between Paraguay and U.S. entities, mainly in Oklahoma, which included The University of Oklahoma, St. Gregory's College, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, trade / business councils, and various film festivals, literary events, and indigenous tribal cultural exchanges. One of the activities I was most proud of was the completion of an anthology of 35 Paraguayan women writers, whose work I translated from Spanish to English and then made available online. I'd like to include a second

I had the opportunity to return at the end of the year, and I was really happy to learn that Sombras en la Noche had been made available, and that there was a virtual film festival. I ran into Carlos Tarabal in a restaurant one afternoon and he let me know that there may be a new series as well -- a kind of Luison, Reloaded (smile). I have to say I love the idea. Zombies and vampires are fine in the current culture, but it's time for some variety! 

On a more serious note, myths can express the human condition, with all its paradoxes and complexities, in a way that very few narratives can. I found that the Paraguayan Luison myth related quite well to the experience of American Marines in Iraq, and I wrote a blog post, Folklore and the Horrors of War: The Myth of the Luison  around 10 years ago about it.  You might find it interesting reading. I go into a bit of detail about the Luison myth, as well as Paraguayan history and the Chaco War, as well as connections to other extreme experiences.

susan smith nash asuncion paraguay
Susan Smith Nash in Asuncion, Paraguay at the Gran Hotel del Paraguay (photo credit: hotel staff)

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