S.C. film studio produces documentary about underwater Mayan city

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An area film company will release a documentary on an underwater archaeological project that they say is an ancient Mayan city.

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Telly awards line the shelf in Greg Ruddell's office  in McCormick, S.C. The award honors the best local, regional and cable television commercials and programs, in addition to the finest video and film productions, and work created for the Web.  JACKIE RICCIARDI/STAFF
JACKIE RICCIARDI/STAFF
Telly awards line the shelf in Greg Ruddell's office in McCormick, S.C. The award honors the best local, regional and cable television commercials and programs, in addition to the finest video and film productions, and work created for the Web.

MAYAN BLUE from Standoff Studios on Vimeo.

Greg Ruddell, the president and CEO of Standoff Studios in McCormick, S.C., said that his company will release Mayan Blue this year.

His film company embarked on a journey in 2006 to make a documentary on Mayan culture in Central America, and a year later it stumbled on Roberto Samayoa Asmos, a Guatemalan who had discovered artifacts and underwater city in Guatemala. No one believed Asmos until Standoff Studios provided high-quality photography, Ruddell said.

Vice President of Operations Rafael Garcia wanted to show an underwater viewpoint of the Mayan culture. His team traveled to Central America to visit several countries where the Mayans lived and to see underwater caves. The last country they visited was Guatemala.

Field producer Lawson Barnes had learned about Asmos, who lived in the mountains near a lake, so the crew set out to meet him, Ruddell said.

“They became somewhat chummy so that he’d trust them enough to take them out,” Ruddell said. “We took our HD (high-definition) cameras and we filmed what was there. It was clear underwater buildings, foundations and things like that were there at one time. A very, very ancient site.”

Standoff Studios convinced the Guatemalan government that it was a city and gained film rights; Guatemala is in charge of the project.

Televisa News has reported on the city, named Samabaj, which it said is in Lake Atitlan, about 186 miles from Guatemala City. The city is believed to be more than 2,000 years old, Ruddell said.

In 2009, Reuters reported that scuba divers were exploring the volcanic lake to find clues about a sacred island where Mayan pilgrims worshipped before it was submerged by rising waters. Reuters said that archaeologists were mapping the 4,300-square-foot area with sonar technology and excavating structures on a raised part of the lake bed.

Researchers believed the area, 50 feet below the lake’s surface, was once an island until a catastrophic event, such as a volcanic eruption or landslide, raised water levels. The rising lake covered the buildings around A.D. 250. Lead archaeologist Sonia Medrano said that researchers had found six ceremonial monuments, four altars and religious paraphernalia, which indicate it was “an extremely important place from a spiritual point of view.”

People can dive the 1,100-footdeep lake only certain times of year, Ruddell said, and Standoff Studios has been filming the underwater city since 2007. The crew has worked with some of the world’s leading archaeologists, he said.

“Archaeologists keep finding more and more stuff,” Ruddell said. “It appears it was a place where Mayans from all over the Mayan world came during pilgrimages. It appears they rowed out to this island that was designed for their religious ceremonies.”

Ruddell said that the documentary will be finished in the next couple of weeks and that he is working with National Geographic and other channels to air it.

“Standoff Studios has done a lot of stuff, but this is really the biggest and best thing that we’ve done,” he said. “The photography is absolutely beautiful. It’s breakthrough work.”

Standoff Studios is also working on a documentary project with the University of South Carolina called Marine Investigators. USC professor John Dean and Jamie Walker, of The Frenzy Group, have placed computerized, solar-powered trackers on sailfish to track where they go to provide scientific information.

When a tracker is released, information is transmitted to satellites. The project is designed to track where fish reproduce so conservationists can protect those areas and fish populations can continue to reproduce, he said.

“We’ll find out where these fish are going,” Ruddell said. “For example, nobody knows where the hammerheads (sharks) go to mate.”

Standoff Studios also produced The Catch: Costa Rica, a reality competition series that took contestants on a fishing adventure in Costa Rica. The show was one of the highest-rated fishing shows on the Outdoor Channel, he said.


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