Cenotes are natural sinkholes found in various parts of the world, but they are especially common on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, where there are nearly 6,000. Serving for centuries as a source of freshwater to the local Mayan population, they are also a wellspring of legends and were once sites of ritual human sacrifice.
Starting in 2017, filmmaker Kaori Oda made three trips to cenotes in the Yucatan, filming and meeting the people who live there. The resulting film, “Cenote,” which had its international premiere at this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam, is labeled a documentary, but is more of a poetic meditation on the mythic and ritual role of cenotes in Mayan life, going back into prehistory.
The first recipient of the Oshima Prize for talented young filmmakers in Japan, Oda has spent much of her career outside the country, including participation in the Sarajevo-based Film Factory (stylized as film.factory) training program designed by Hungarian director Bela Tarr. And “Cenote,” which explores the borders between imagination and reality, nature and humanity, life and death, is about as culturally borderless as a film can be.