Guatemala’s main source of transportation comes from drivers of colorfully painted, refurbished buses known as “camionetas.” These drivers and their decorated buses are responsible for providing the majority of Guatemalans a way to make a living by transporting them to and from work each day.
For as long as he can remember, Ermelindo has had a dream of owning one of these buses, and to perform this service that is so essential to the people of Guatemala and their way of life. The documentary feature debut from Mark Kendall (www.markkendall.net), La Camioneta, follows the bus that will eventually serve to fulfill Ermelindo’s long-awaited dream, as it makes it’s way from the United States through Mexico before descending further south, finally making it’s way to Guatemala where it will start a new life.
Kendall’s documentary follows the bus through its journey of migration, beginning in a field full of school busses – used, but for the most part in good condition – located in Pennsylvania, where an auction is held and the decommissioned buses are sold to the highest bidder. The majority of bidders have come from Central America in hopes of finding a bus they can purchase and flip to make a profit by selling them to buyers in their home countries. At the auction Kendall introduces the audience to Domingo Lastor, a bidder from Guatemala who makes the trip every two weeks in order to maintain a steady income from the buses he buys to re-sell in Guatemala.
The drive is both long and full of potential danger waiting in Mexico, where highway crimes are widespread, and the threat of attack feels imminent. “It’s a choice you make,” says Domingo, “but if you don’t take a chance you cant achieve anything…you’ll always stay exactly as you are.” Domingo shares his fears with Kendall, but he does not allow them to overcome him, as the possibility of something more compels him to continue.
The bus finally does arrives safely in Guatemala, and with a little help from his friends, Ermelindo is able to purchase the bus on a payment plan, and the next stage of the buses journey begins, as it is prepared for restoration. These buses serve as a symbol of the Guatemalans who drive them, both migrants passing back and forth between countries in hopes of establishing a better life.
Since 2006, this hope has become increasingly threatened by the influx of local gangs who force drivers and fare-collectors to pay a fee to continue their transportation services, and to keep their passengers safe along the way. Refusal to comply with these extortionist’s demands is to ensure an attack on the driver and his passengers, many of which have resulted in a large number of casualties. The majority of the violence takes place in Quetzal City, and the drivers are extra cautious when their job leaves them no choice but to venture into the corrupt city. Despite this dark reality, Ermelindo and others like him continue to remain optimistic about the future, and to believe in their ability to build a path to a better way of life.
In terms of narrative, there are times the film feels a little hard to follow – although this could partially be due to the use of subtitles in portions that are heavy with dialogue – but Kendall’s use of the camionetas as a metaphor of the people of Guatemala helps to tie the story together in the end. Rather than focus on the negative aspects of this story that could lead to sensationalizing the drama, Kendall stays true to the spirit of the individual. In doing so, he presents the audience with a tale about the power of re-birth, illustrating its capacity to create hope in even the most dire circumstances.
You can find out more info on the film here: www.lacamionetafilm.com
La Camioneta opens to a limited theatrical release beginning Friday, May 31 in LA followed by it’s release in NY on Friday, June 7, and will continue to be released in other cities on a limited basis.