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Art & Soul: Documentaries in the Land of Eternal Spring

I call the course “The Art and Soul of Documentary Editing.” I am working with a group of young people on an intensive one-week workshop at Casa Comal,a community media center in Guatemala City.

For seven years Casa Comal has almost single-handedly built a skills base in cinema basics among young people here. I first met the “Comales” (as they call themselves) four years ago when they invited me to show our 1983 release “When the Mountains Tremble” in its first public presentation in Guatemala, after having been informally banned for 20 years, seen only in clandestine screenings during that time. It was an unforgettable night, but that’s another story. Suffice it to say that I’d been looking for a way to come back to Guatemala and do something with Casa Comal ever since.

So when Skylight Pictures decided to return to Guatemala to continue an exploration begun 20 years earlier with “When the Mountains Tremble,” I contacted Casa Comal’s two founding leaders, Elias Jimenez and Rafael Rosal, and we cooked up this course.
Casa Comal has taken on the task of raising the level of independent film not only in Guatemala but also throughout Central America. They have a year-round school to train students, a production unit that produces an independent feature film a year (in a country where you can count homegrown features on one hand) and they organize the fabulous Icaro film festival with participants from across Central America.

My workshop lasts a week. In that short time I present the methodology of documentary editing, and the students divI’de up to work on four Adobe Premiere edit systems, each group using the same batch of footage used to create a scene in our last film, “State of Fear.”

Squeezed in the middle somewhere Casa Comal has me speak on their weekly cultural radio show. Then on the last day we watch each group’s cut, after which I reveal the scene I had cut for “State of Fear” from the same footage. And alongsI’de the craft there are passionate discussions of “what is a documentary” and “what is the responsibility of the documentary filmmaker.”

Guatemala has almost no independent documentary tradition, and needs it badly. But then I suppose that might be saI’d about a great many places in this beautiful and troubled world.


As the Editorial Director, Peter Kinoy heads the post-production work at Skylight. Over a thirty year career he has developed a unique approach to visual storytelling that combines a deep empathy for human plight with a desire to explain, educate and point paths forward.

  • ale
    Posted at 09:27h, 18 April Reply

    Yes! years of fear have made us afraid to express ourselves in any form. Art has been subversive by definition ever since I can remember. Independent films are a wonderful way to probe into our distant and recent histories, to pose questions, to seek answers, but fundamentally, simply to express ourselves and lose the fear of communicating what we hold as true.

    Keep coming back to Guate!

  • Mitchell Teplitsky
    Mitchell Teplitsky
    Posted at 11:01h, 17 April Reply

    Peter, this is extremely cool! it’s funny, this morning I gave a presentation to a university film class here in LIma. I would have shared this story….

  • Peter Kinoy
    Peter Kinoy
    Posted at 11:08h, 17 April Reply

    I find it very refreshing to teach people who have a real hunger to learn.  Thanks for the comment.

  • Peter Kinoy
    Peter Kinoy
    Posted at 04:24h, 18 April Reply

    Dear ale,
    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I have worked with a group of deaf, and deaf blind people in the U.S. and they use the slogan “Communication is a human right.”  As with all rights, they only exist to the extent that we use them and protect them.

  • Luis Argueta
    Luis Argueta
    Posted at 03:17h, 16 May Reply

    you are teaching a lot more than documentary editing.
    You are transmitting an attitude towards life and the world around us. This is an attitude of true freedom of expression.

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