29 Apr 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.