After riding a colorful camioneta across Guatemala in 2009, Mark Kendall was inspired to explore the origins of the retrofitted school bus. “I found myself thinking about the old school bus I used to ride to basketball games in high school,” says Kendall. “Where was it now? Is it driving around somewhere in Guatemala? Who were the people that buy and repair these buses? How and why did they bring them to Guatemala? And who puts so much time and energy into carefully decorating them? A year later I decided to find out.”
What It’s About: “Every day dozens of decommissioned school buses migrate from the United States 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 killed for either being unable or refusing to pay the extortion money demanded by local gangs.
“The film moves between the migration and resurrection of one bus and the stories of the five men whose lives become intertwined with its fate, ultimately becoming a quiet, unconventional, and visually-immersive meditation on the universal quest for freedom of mobility.”
Says Director Mark Kendall: “I’ve always been interested in how people define and seek to expand their own worlds.
“I studied anthropology in college and was really most interested in exploring the psychological elements of ritual and culture and how different people develop different cultural expressions to reflect and reaffirm their own understanding of their relationship to the universe.
“I slowly began gravitating towards documentary filmmaking over the course of a few years because I saw it as a craft that would allow me to synthesize my interest in human stories with my background in music and budding ambitions as an amateur photographer. Looking back on it, it was a more holistic and expressive way to explore the types of themes and ideas that had interested me for a long time.
“I’ve been trying to swim towards the possibilities ever since.”
On resonating with audiences: “This isn’t the kind of film that’s going to generate one kind of reaction, nor is it the kind of message-driven documentary that is familiar to most audiences. That’s why I think SXSW is such a fantastic place for us to share the film for the first time!
“My hope is that the theatrical experience of sharing film will linger on inside of people long after walking out of the theater and their thoughts and feelings about it will re-emerge and develop over time. I hope that next time they see a school bus, they will replay moments from the film and question their own relationship to something so seemingly-familiar that they may have previously taken for granted.
“The film definitely has a strong point of view and there are a number of political and social themes that are embedded within the world of the story, but they exist more at the level of the subtext and aren’t presented in a problem/solution format because the issues are all actually quite complex and I wasn’t interested in making that kind of film. I tried to leave plenty of space for people to engage with the story and to come to their own conclusions on their own terms.
“When people begin to see familiar things in unfamiliar ways, that’s where the real interesting possibilities are.”
Inspired by a conversation: “When I first rode the brightly-colored camionetas across the Guatemalan highlands in 2009, I instantly recognized them as old school buses. My curiosity was piqued when one driver told me that the camioneta we we were riding on came from a school district in Tennessee, just 20 miles from where I was living at the time.
“Originally, my idea was to follow one out-of-service school bus through the entire journey it took to become a camioneta and to use that process as a way to weave together the stories of the people who make it all possible. Following the bus seemed like the perfect vehicle into exploring more personal stories about migration, exchange, transformation and connectedness.”
Indiewire invited SXSW Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2012 festival.
Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch for the latest profiles.