An Incredible Trip to Guatemala: Guest Blog by Robin Canfield, Director of Actuality Media

Following Actuality Media’s TOWNHALL Takeover on Instagram this week, we’ve had loads of interest in what the team does, their Documentary Outreach Competition and exactly what’s involved in making the amazing films they produce!

This Guest Blog by Robin Canfield, Director of Actuality Media, takes you on an adventure with them to Guatemala during one of their filming missions.

Read on for Part 1 of this awesome story and keep an eye out for Part 2 coming out next week…

Many people would tell you about their experience in social justice work (or in traveling abroad) with a day-in-the-life piece. For a Documentary Outreach with Actuality Media – that just won’t work. There are two main issues:

One – I want to tell you about our Outreaches, but I’m the International Programs Director. Sure, I’m on the ground for many Actuality Media programs, but as a Director. Most of my day-in-the-life experiences are as a leader; a Production Supervisor.

Two – a Documentary Outreach is four weeks long. It can easily be divided into four distinct sections, but no way will one day-in-the-life summation give an accurate description.

Come with me then, back to Guatemala in 2012. We were based in Quetzaltenango – the second largest city in Guatemala – and, due to a late, late cancellation of a participant, we had a crew in need of an Editor.

So I stepped in.

Week 1: An average day in Research Week

I woke up at The Black Cat Hostel in the crew dormitory, got dressed, grabbed my things and headed downstairs. At the hostel cafe I grabbed a cup of coffee while I waited on breakfast.

From there it was a five minute walk and two story climb to BaseCamp for Briefings with the Production Supervisors to focus us on Thinking Visually and on Documentary Storytelling.

Briefings at Base Camp.

Downstairs after the Briefings it was a few minute walk along a cobblestone lane, past colorful houses, a vibrant mercado, and more than a few ladies making – and selling -fresh tortillas, to arrive at the Quetzaltrekkers office. A volunteer-run hiking organization, Quetzaltrekkers is a division of EDELAC – our subject changemaker for this documentary project.

First meeting of the EDELAC crew and the guides from Quetzaltrekkers.

Yesterday we visited the orphanage that EDELAC runs and met some of the young residents.Today – back to the main office and school for street kids. We grab lunch – sandwiches at an expat café nearby – and continue on to La Rotunda. It’s a traffic circle where countless old school buses (converted for mass transit, i.e. painted a different color and accessorized) rumble and wait for passengers. Each one serves a different route through the city – ours heads due East from Zona 1 and drops us on the edge of Zona 11, then continues on to I-have-no-idea-where.

Our guide lead us a short trek up a dirt road past a mix of ramshackle mix of wood and tin houses, and finer cinderblock residences. Near the top of the hill sits the Escuela de la Calle – School for Street Kids. We met Guadelupe – the Director – the other day and he told us how their organization started and why, Quetzaltrekkers included.

Just another day walking in Quetzaltenango.

Today, though – craziness.

We tour the school while it’s in session, quietly peeking into classrooms hoping that we foreigners don’t become the huge distraction that we do inevitably become. Before that, though – I learned to write the numbers 1-10 in Mayan. And at recess we played games with lots of kids and had a great time getting to know them/getting them comfortable with us being around before we bring a camera to film with.

After a few hours meeting with students, teachers and staff we’re much closer to knowing the story we want to film, and we’re already eying our guide Steve for our main character. So we head back down the hill, catch a bus back to the Rotunda and head to BaseCamp to debrief before dinner.

Photography lessons with children at EDELAC.

Week 2: An Average Day in Planning Weekends



Briefing – Story Summary and Post-Production

We had a lot of meetings last week and met a lot of people. Guadalupe says that EDELAC has enough teachers and volunteers at the school, and the right people know about the school and orphanage. What they really need is more foreign volunteers to lead the hikes that fund it all. So we asked Steve to be our character – he’s a friendly young guy from Chicago and, well, it shouldn’t be hard for a person in the audience to look at him, hear his experience, and say “that could be me.” We’re here to help the organization, after all. So we had a chat at Quetzaltrekkers last night and lined up a hike for next week to film.

Kids and crew members at play at EDELAC.

So now we’re back at BaseCamp after lunch, working on outlining the story we want to film. Sure it won’t happen just as we plan – we get plenty of reminders about that – but we have to know what’s missing as we go. Once we leave Guatemala we’re not flying back for pick-ups, just as on day three of the hike next week, we’re not hiking back to the start to get any footage we missed.

Our Production Supervisor, Aubrie, sits in with us to go through our story, making sure we have a good structural basis – a framework that helps pace the story in a way an audience will follow.

Eventually, after a few more hours of work, we call it good. The story summary has been OK’d, the shot list is in the works, and as we have a hike to go on (and plan around), scheduling is already underway. It’s time to get back to the hostel, eat dinner, and get some rest.

Coconut Time!
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