“Unexpected and fascinating.”
– Sheri Linden, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
“NYT CRITICS’ PICK! An upbeat story of resilience, regeneration and artistic imagination.”
– Stephen Holden, THE NEW YORK TIMES
“The film wrings an almost bizarre amount of political, humanistic and spiritual substance out of this limited frame. Kendall’s eye for untold stories, as well as his instinct for catching evocatively framed images on the fly, mark him as a name to watch.”
– Andrew Barker, VARIETY
Every day dozens of decommissioned school buses leave the United States on a southward migration that carries them to Guatemala, where they are repaired, repainted, and resurrected as the brightly-colored camionetas that bring the vast majority of Guatemalans to work each day. Since 2006, nearly 1,000 camioneta drivers and fare-collectors have been murdered for either refusing or being unable to pay the extortion money demanded by local Guatemalan gangs. LA CAMIONETA follows one such bus on its transformative journey: a journey between North and South, between life and death, and through an unfolding collection of moments, people, and places that serve to quietly remind us of the interconnected worlds in which we live.
A delicate and raw documentary on the journey of ‘unusable’ American school buses, La Camioneta explores what happens when quite literally one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Director Mark Kendall follows those big yellow buses from the starting line – an auction in The States where the buses are lined up in all their glory, and are bought by Guatemalans who drive them over the border and through Mexico to take them back home where they will hopefully get more love and appreciation than from a bunch of screaming brats and moody teenagers.
These buses, which are generally between 8-10 years old, are deemed old and not good enough to keep using in the American school system. They look absolutely fine, and the majority of them work completely well, and although their schooling life is over, they are about to receive a total revamp pimp out makeover that would make XZibit weak at the knees, giving them a new lease of life as the main transportation for many working Guatemalans.
However, while this all sounds like an adoption with a happy ending, it doesn’t quite always work out that way. The journey for the drivers isn’t a smooth run – on the road to their destination, nor once they get there. They face a constant anticipation of danger when driving through Mexico stating, “In the US if you behave well, everything’s ok. When you go through Mexico, everything changes,” because of the corruption, stealing, assault and power abuse by the authorities. Once they have got to Guatemala and their new pride and joy has undergone their various operations and paint jobs, the life of the Camioneta drivers is definitely not an easy one. They are regular targets for extortionists and the violence in the cities is getting worse; by the end of 2010 there were 3,200 victims of violence in Guatemala, 130 of those were bus drivers, and 53 were fare collectors. The documentary invites viewers into the lives and homes of the drivers and the struggles that they face, but with little choice for alternative work they risk their lives daily to get people to and from work.
As well as an insight into a wonderful journey that the majority of people would never think about in their lifetime, the film also addresses issues such as worth and overconsumption. Fuelled with inspirational Paulo Coelho style quotes, La Camioneta really gets you thinking about what is important in life, and how much western society wastes. In America, as well as over here in the UK we live in societies where there is a high demand for commodities, for new gadgets and technologies – a lot of the time keeping things only until the next big thing becomes available, instead of appreciating things until they have completely run their course and crashed and burned. These school buses are getting a completely new life at the age of 10 – seen by Guatemalans as new objects full of life.
The filming is incredibly artistic and would make a great collection of photo stills – screen shots would be as much appreciated hanging large on a gallery wall as they are on the screen. Kendall pays attention to detail by often shooting close up, with one memorable part in particular during a scene where masking tape is taken off one of the buses to reveal the revival. He has given a thorough and highly interesting account on a way of life that seems like a never ending journey with the consistent possibility of a premature and violent death around the corner, but with little choice. La Camioneta is a fantastic documentary, which I definitely recommend to all audiences, especially to those with an interest in eye opening individual stories that the news doesn’t tell you about.
Hartford, CT: Real Art Ways – November 8-14
Boulder, CO: Americas Latino Festival – November 15-19
Chattanooga, TN: Barking Legs Theater – December 5
Honolulu, HI: Honolulu Museum of Art – December
Albuquerque, NM: The Guild Cinema – December