Originally from a small town in Mississippi, Amanda Strickland is a filmmaker, travel-writer, former-archaeologist, and general multi-hyphenate who’s been based in the Yucatán since 2014. When she’s not directing documentaries and commercials for Lobaluna, the film company she co-founded, she might be found working in service of Ko’ox Boon, the nonprofit she started that is dedicated to supporting traditions and education among the Maya-speaking community of Yaxhachén. We talk to her about her projects, experiences, and favorite things.
It’s easy to see what attracted you to the Yucatán. What keeps you there?
I am an anthropologist at the very core of my being: the unusual & mundane customs of people who live differently put me into a total trance. I am the type of anthropologist that takes “going native” to a whole new level, so in that way, my experience is more than “local.” I can spend four hours talking to a 70-year-old man about rain patterns. It is very hard for me to come out of a project. I like to go very deep, live with no cell phone, and really try to see from the eyes of my collaborators.
I get itchy feet for one thing: to live in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. I have had that dream for 6 years now, & I know that some day I’ll make that leap.
What’s the most fun project you’ve done with Loboluna Producciones?
Loboluna is my love child, who offers me the language I need to express what I am discovering anthropologically—while also sustaining my groovy lifestyle!. My current project is definitely my favorite-ever of my entire life (if you’ll excuse the enthusiasm). I am directing a documentary about the life of an unbelievable woman, Bacila Tzek Uc, a 90-year-old midwife from a remote pueblo called Yaxhachén. Currently, we are in the middle of production, and I am completely amazed by the way this woman works. She has been working for 65 years and does not have the means to retire. Girl power is at the very center of this story, not only because of her, but because of the amazing women bravely giving birth in hammocks, for the most part with no male support. Last week, I filmed a birth alongside the documentary’s photographer, Allie Jordan, and I will never forget holding the camera and feeling the tears flood down my face. I was weeping and smiling and feeling a raw power that I have never felt before. There were only women in that room.
I would also like to mention my fear and excitement for being a female director. If this project had been funded three years ago, when I originally created the project, I wouldn’t haven been the director—even though I had conceived and written the project. Thanks to the feminist revolution, I feel empowered, gritty, and unafraid of stepping up to perform the role that is rightfully mine.
Tell us about your work with Ko’on Boon.
Ko’ox Boon came about as a way to connect with the Yucatec Maya speaking people of Yaxhachén. I had been working as an archaeologist and I felt like the discipline of archaeology was too far disconnected from the modern Maya. The project has evolved, serving up to 192 kids from the community at a time. Right now, Ko’ox Boon is dedicated to preserving cultural traditions, like midwifery, however, we will have a kids art camp (back by popular demand) before the end of the year.
Are there any creature comforts you miss from the US?
I miss bathtubs. There are moments when I would do anything to draw up a hot bubble bath and lie back with a glass of Cabernet & a Miranda July book. My historic home in colonial Mérida is totally gorgeous with original tile floors, hovering ceilings and my dream office, but the bathroom is a complete nightmare.
What’s one thing visitors to Playa del Carmen region shouldn’t miss?
The Frida Kahlo museum. I apologize for talking about crying so much in this interview, but I really think I cried about 7 times in the tour of the Frida Kahlo museum. The crying corresponds with vulnerability, and vulnerability corresponds with artistic growth. If you want to get real with the Frida Kahlo story, you have to open yourself completely. Frida has become a commercial goldmine, and almost anyone in the world can recognize her works or her face. But I think very few people know about the profound amount of suffering that Frida lived through. Her resilience—despite unthinkable pain, humiliation, and challenges—is completely humbling. And her artwork is out of this world.
Also: sunrise paddle boarding.