I’m not a Mayanist, but maybe this means I’m more — rather than less — competent to endorse David
Gruber’s LeBrun’s documentary Breaking The Maya Code. I read Michael Coe’s book of the same name years ago a few years back and enjoyed it, and the movie is even better — wonderful, in fact. If you have even a drop of geeky epigrapher in you, then you’ll love the interviews with well-known names dripping with enthusiasm over syllabaries. Even if you are not, the film does a great job of walking the viewer through a pretty detailed understanding of how Maya glyphs work. Along the way you get a pretty decent over view of classical Mayan culture and history as well.
What I liked best about the documentary beside its depth and elegance was the fact that it began with contemporary Mayan communities and discussed the history of colonialism they’d lived through as a segue to early Spanish explorers and the origins of Western attempts to understand Mayan culture. The movie then closes with indigenous communities working with researchers to teach the next generation of adorable Mayan children how to read and write glyphs, which is both very cute and a sterling example of how not to treat Mayans if they were ‘extinct’. Its rare in ‘ancient civilization’ documentaries to get this sort intelligent, responsible reportage.
The score by Yuval Ron is good too. Its a bit too long to show in class, but is streaming on Netflix, so it is not that hard to get ahold of so… enjoy!