Voodoo. This is the sort of topic that could play well to the strengths of In Search Of, but also to its weaknesses. Let’s see how we go.
We start with a voodoo ceremony. Dancing, chanting, beating drums. Nimoy tells us that “the ceremony mingles the demons of humanity’s oldest fears with elements of a young religion” which isn’t a bad summary I guess.
A street in Haiti. Street vendors, people carrying baskets on their heads. Nimoy tells us how the Spanish saw a land of wealth, and how the French extracted so much of this wealth, leaving the people in poverty. It is the poorest country in the Americas, Nimoy tells us, “poor, noisy, crowded”. He goes on to tell us that Haiti is a predominately Catholic country – on the surface.
We are then introduced to Papa Ziouie (not sure about spelling) a houngan, a voodoo priest, “reportedly one of the most powerful in Haiti”. He’s balding and wears glasses and looks kind of like an accountant, which is pretty cool. His parish is in an astonishingly poor area, and his temple is a bare-walled house with stray dogs wandering through it.
Back in the studio, Nimoy explains that voodoo cannot be explained, only experienced. Which seems like it might defeat the purpose of a documentary, but Nimoy proudly claims that the footage that they’ll show is voodoo as it is experienced. Well, let’s see.
We are shown the setting up of the ritual space –chalk patterns on the floor, setting up the drums. It’s actually pretty interesting. I wasn’t sure how this episode was going to go, but so far it seems like a pretty straightforward documentarty about voodoo as a religion. The ceremony itself is mostly about bringing good luck, and everyone looks to be having a fine old time. I’m no expert on voodoo, but Nimoy’s narration seems mostly pretty factual.
And then, he just shushes and lets the footage of the ceremony speak for itself. Then he explains that it is possible that one of the dancers will become possessed by a spirit. This happens, and Nimoy assures us that this is a good thing. Nimoy tells us that it is possible that the spirit will take the soul of the possessed woman leaving her a zombie, but assures us that it won’t happen tonight. At different ceremonies involving angry spirits, it could go otherwise.
So far so good. Next up, we see Papa Zouie shaving the next day. We’re told that houngans are not magicians but priests, and we get a little list of some of his parochial tasks. We see his sanctuary, where a mix of African spirits and Catholic saints form the pantheon of his religion. Now we start talking about some of the side of voodoo beloved by white horror movie makers – vengeful spirits, werewolves, vampires and zombies. Part of Papa Zouie’s job is to protect people from evil spirits and sorcerers.
We watch him prepare for the ‘Petro’ ceremony of the angry spirits. Nimoy gives us a grim – and somewhat lurid — warning about this ceremony. Nimoy explains that the priest might not be able to keep control of the spirits. There’s some interesting stuff about the dual meaning of the cross in voodoo, and then there’s a lot of drumming and dancing. It’s pretty cool, but it doesn’t quite have the happy vibe of the previous ritual.
There’s fire dancing in this one, and the loa spirits are coming. Nimoy tells us that the spirits of the worshipers must leave their bodies before the loa can take over. But it’s the visuals that are the most interesting part. The worshipers drum and dance amongst the fires and fall into ecstatic convulsions.
And then the petro is finished. Nimoy assures us that the people are now safe, Papa Zouie having got them safely through the petro.
We’re back in the streets of Port au Prince. Nimoy sums up for a bit, over footage of Papa Zouie looking like an accountant on his break. The end.
Okay, so not that bad. Honestly, I should have realised that it wouldn’t be. This show is often accidentally racist, but rarely does it on purpose. There’s a little patronisation and a little bit of sensationalisation, but otherwiseit’s a decent introductory documentary on the voodoo religion. I was kind of dreading this episode when I saw the title, but really: could have been a lot worse.
Not really very quotable this time. A lot of screen time was footage of the rituals, and little of the narration is silly or amusing.
Actual documentary: 8/10, Music: 8/10, Dancing: 9/10, Cultural sensitivity 8/10, Nimoyness: 7/10. Overall: 42/50. Distinction