An Incredible Trip to Guatemala, Part 2: Guest Blog by Robin Canfield, Director of Actuality Media

We recently bought you Part 1 of an awesome guest blog by Robin Canfield, Director of Actuality Media, after having loads of interest in their scholarship competition and TOWNHALL Instagram Takeover.

Actuality Media create transformative educational experiences and connect an international community of storytellers through global documentary outreach.

There’s so much work and some awesome experiences that go into making a documentary, so read on for Part 2 of Robin’s guest blog to learn a little more…

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 3: An Average Day in Filming Weekends

Yesterday was amazing and I am exhausted. Sleeping on a cement floor in a sleeping bag is not comfortable, but it definitely beats sleeping out in the rain showers we heard outside, pounding on the metal roof of the little town’s city hall building where Quetzaltrekkers rented us a space to lay down for the night.

Not the most comfortable floor to sleep on, on the trek from Xela to Atitlan.

Trekking through the Guatemalan Highlands is awesome. Near midday yesterday we passed through a village and I got some great pictures of a Mayan shepherd – men in these highlands wear kilts, too!

A sheep herder (and his kilt-ish garb) on the trek from Xela to Atitlan.

In the village we got a lot of concerned looks – off the main roads, not many people come through the villages. Not since the army was attacking them in the Civil War twenty plus years ago. But for us, they saw our Quetzaltrekkers guide that they knew, and the concerned looks turned to smiles.

Filming was hard because the hike is already on a schedule. The group can’t stop to wait on us, or go back and walk past the camera again if we’re too slow We have three full days of hiking to get to our destination, and to get the footage we want. We got some great footage already – hiking, conversations, establishing shots; things our film definitely needs.

Halfway through day two of hiking we’ve just finished filming lunch below an unbelievable mountain peak. On the ridge line approaching it, it didn’t really feel that high in the air. We were in the clouds and there was nothing to give us the perspective of our altitude. Out of the fog walked a Mayan man with a carrier full of firewood strapped on – the first person we had seen in hours. We nodded to each other and said our “hola’s” and just after, the wind whipped the clouds – and our breaths – away. We could see so, so far down the side of the mountain.

A city on the cliffs on the trek from Xela to Atitlan – HDR

Just a minute or two later, the wind brought the clouds back. We kept marching on.

Mayan farmers disappearing into the clouds on the high mountain trail.

Week 4: An Average Day in Editing Weekends

From the wall to the computer, from the computer to the wall. From the wall to the computer, from the computer to the wall. Repeat.

The wall is covered with our notecards – some for visuals, others for audio. All of the scenes and soundbites that make up our film laid out in a five section order based off the Hero’s Journey structure – a foundation for a story that Actuality Media guides us with.

The sight from the public square in Santa Catarina.

At the wall we arrange, and re-arrange the cards to improve the story of our film. It’s a full crew and Production Supervisor discussion sometimes, and other times it is just the Director and I moving cards around, judging new potential storyline progressions. Each time we reach a potential new variation – I snap a picture with my cellphone and go back to the editing computer to arrange the clips to match the cards.

Every now and again at the computer we watch the new cut of the film. It’s really almost there now. Soon I’ll just be tightening scenes, making sure the sound is good and adding titles. I have just over two more days before we’re gathering at the offices of UAM – the changemaker that the other crew here has been filming with – to watch the new films in their big hall, and to celebrate the end of production with our film subjects, and the new friends we’ve made here in Quetzaltenango.

From there – back to Guatemala City, fly home, tell people about my new documentary film!

Premiere night!
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