The Austin Chronicle

Filming the Code-Breakers

By Rob D'Amico, May 2, 2008, News

The more-than-centurylong struggle to decipher the Maya hieroglyphs is a fascinating story of clashing egos, missteps, and brilliant discoveries – all captured in Michael Coe's 1992 book, Breaking the Maya Code. Much of the book covers the roles of Linda Schele and David Stuart and others associated with the University of Texas, along with accounts of the famous Mesa Redondas (round table discussions in Palenque, Mexico). Equally impressive is the film version of the story, adapted from the book and directed by David Lebrun. Lebrun premiered the film Breaking the Maya Code at this year's Maya Meetings. "This was the toughest audience in the world, and they all loved it," said Coe, who also raved that the film maintains the subject's academic integrity while still entertaining people who know nothing about epigraphy.

The film has since played in a few festivals in the U.S. and Canada, but Lebrun hopes to have it return to Austin for a screening, as well. Until then, you can catch the 50-minute version of the 116-min­ute film as it was shown on NOVA as "Cracking the Maya Code," by visiting The site also has interactive pages highlighting Maya culture, timelines, and a podcast on how the ancient Mayan language may have sounded, with spoken examples from Barbara MacLeod, who got her doctorate at UT.

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