The Movie That Almost Was: Federico Fellini and the Maya

June 30th, 2011 by ejalbright

Fellini in Yucatan

Federico Fellini and Carlos Castaneda, collaborating on a movie that involved the Maya ruins of Tulum and Chichen Itza?

Apparently Fellini, the director of “8 1/2,” “Amarcord,” and “La Dolce Vita” wanted to make a film of Castaneda’s “The Teachings of Don Juan,” and the two men scouted possibly locations in Yucatan where Fellini was quite take by the beautiful vistas of Tulum. The project was derailed, according to Fellini, by a cabal of cultists who followed “Don Juan’s” teachings.

The meeting of two giants of film and publishing is the subject of a film, “Soñando con Tulum” (“Dream of Tulum”), a fictional depiction of the two men’s trip to Yucatan in the mid 1980s. The film, by Mexican-born director Tiahoga Ruge, premieres at the Moscow International Film Festival. In the late 1970s Ruge was an assistant to Fellini, and upon learning of the filmmaker’s interest in Castaneda’s work, arranged an introduction between the two men in Los Angeles. They later traveled together to Yucatan where Castaneda abandoned the filmmaker, but Fellini ending up spending a month.

No film ever came from the collaboration, but the raw ideas of a film based on Fellini’s trip was transformed into a graphic novel by the Italian erotic comic artist Milo Manara in 1990. A few years ago Ruge proposed creating a film about Fellini’s experience. The project soon grew to become two films and a co-production between Mexico and Italy. When the Italian funding fell through, Ruge cobbled together the first film, which tells the story of how Fellini became interested in Mexico and how he traveled to Yucatan and met a shaman. The film is fiction, Ruge says, and not a documentary.

Castaneda, however, is not part of the film. According to Ruge, even though he is dead, his heirs are very protective of his rights. But why did Castaneda abandon the original project and supposedly leave Fellini in the middle of Mexican road? Before he died, Fellini explained what happened, at least from his perspective:

“My film project based on Castaneda’s stories upset, alarmed or alerted a particular group of people,” Fellini told an Italian newspaper. “Castaneda must have belonged to a well organized group with an ideology that its members believed in fanatically, which also has underground informants scattered throughout the world. I am convinced that Castaneda was, in a certain way, under the power of this mystical group. In all churches, and even moreso in the occult, there are truths that must not be revealed. Otherwise it is treason. Silence is required. The ‘friends’ of his books tolerated Castaneda, but when they realized that a film would disclose their mysteries they intervened to scare Castaneda.”

For the complete story (in Spanish), see

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