Visionaries Documentary Premiere!

Though my official role for our school’s newspaper, the Springfield Student, is copy editor, this week I did some writing, and I’ve got an article in this issue! I’ve posted the article (slightly different than the printed version) here, but check out their website here: SpringfieldStudent. I’ve also tried to give some photos that haven’t been previously uploaded! Enjoy :)

The Visionaries crew and I finally released our death grips on the plane’s armrests as we safely landed at Tegucigalpa Airport, which has been listed among the most dangerous airport sites. In mid-September, we arrived in Honduras to film a documentary over a four day period on the University of Zamorano, a non-profit agricultural university celebrating its 70th year.

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On Tuesday evening, a little over two months after the trip, director/producer and Springfield College Assistant Professor of Communication Jody Santos, cinematographer Bruce Lundeen, composer Chris Barrett, editor Xandra deGonzalez, and I, the project’s production assistant, gathered in the Townhouse Conference Room in front of an audience of about sixty to premiere the documentary and discuss our experiences. Jody began the event proudly introducing the Visionaries as a documentary series which airs on PBS, chronicling stories of non-profit organizations doing good around the world. She continued to explain how their documentaries are different from other news, as the Visionaries produces feel-good films which profile people making positive impacts in their communities.

I first met Jody in the spring of 2011 when I declared my minor in Social Justice, though I was well into my majors of English and Education. In her Special Topics Communication course, I worked with my film partner, Josh Ernst (‘12), to write, film, and produce our own 25-minute documentary on the Gray House, a Springfield, Mass. non-profit. Our film followed the format of a Visionaries documentary, allowing the Gray House interviewees to tell the uplifting story of their organization and the differences they make in the local community.

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My first-time experience working in documentary production was exciting, and I learned to love the art of storytelling through film. Though that was my first and only class with Jody and involving film, I continued to stay in contact with her in the semesters that followed, always interested in her international, social-justice-themed film travels. In the fall semester of 2012, my junior year, I studied abroad at the University of Limerick in Ireland and traveled throughout Europe. I believe it was a combination of this international travel history, past documentary experience, and my related minor that led Jody over the summer to invite me on the Visionaries’ trip to Honduras earlier this semester. Needless to say, I was thrilled about another international travel opportunity and even more excited to be a part of the first-hand filming experience.

From the moment our plane hit the narrow airport runway in Tegucigalpa, the core crew consisting of Jody, Bruce, audio technician Lit Turner, and I went straight to work. It felt as if Bruce’s cameras were always rolling with Lit monitoring audio, Jody was interviewing and brainstorming storylines, and I was continually sprinting after them trying to keep pace with their seemingly choreographed ways. As we filmed, Jody began to envision the documentary’s story coming together, highlighting Zamorano’s history and positive impact on the community and environment, two top-of-the-class students attending from indigenous Central American villages on scholarships, and the first Women’s Conference taking place on campus.

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Long, hot days of filming started at 3:30 or 4 a.m. and carried well after sundown, sometimes until after midnight. I quickly realized that while Josh and I had half of a semester to film our Gray House documentary, shooting for four days in Honduras put us on a very different time schedule. Though Honduras can be a dangerous country, especially for American travelers, we felt safe on Zamorano’s beautiful and friendly campus. During our stay, we got to know the school structure and history very well. The crew and I were impressed by Zamorano’s faculty and their passionate students learning how to better provide for their families and communities. The students we met were all extremely grateful for their priceless education the University of Zamorano offers, and their passion for their school was contagious. It was also amazing to learn the university’s role in the surrounding community, including projects such as implementing safer stoves in homes, working to provide clean water, and protecting the environment especially in the Uyuca biological reserve.

This was my first time visiting Central America and my first time in any developing country. It was an eye-opening experience driving through the capital city’s poverty on the way to Zamorano’s campus while beautiful mountains of green trees surrounded us. I thoroughly enjoyed working and spending time with the Visionaries’ crew while soaking up everything I could about the professional documentary-filming process, practicing my Spanish, and learning about the university’s inspirational work.
At Tuesday’s premiere, the entire experience came together full circle: Jody, Bruce, and I fondly reminisced about the trip, I got to meet Xandra, the editor and Chris, the composer for the film’s music, we got to see the full cut of the documentary, shared our reflections, and answered questions from the audience. It was surreal watching the edited version of the Visionaries’ film on the University of Zamorano, knowing that the crew and I were there filming those scenes and interviews only two months ago. Ironically, I was happily transported back in time to the moment of gripping fear before our plane’s landing and the whirlwind of memories from the four days that followed.

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THANK YOU to everybody for their support, and a special thanks to Mom and Shannon, my friends, and professors who made the effort to come to our premiere! :-)

Honduras Adventure: Days 3, 4 & 5!

I apologize for leaving you all on a cliff-hanger last week!  Here’s what happened in the last few days of our trip!

Last Friday at Zamorano kicked off the start of their first Women’s Leadership Conference!  It was a really cool event to witness, seeing as this university was originally only for men.  The female students share equal school and field work responsibilities as Zamorano’s male students, but it can be hard breaking boundaries on the journey to higher education in this patriarchal society.  The entire female student body had the day off to attend the on-campus conference!:

Bruce and Lit set up with their camera and audio kit and began their awesome-ness, while I was very excited to be appointed HD picture-taker for another day!  I got so wrapped up in listening to the speeches and snapping pics that I almost got left behind during breakfast haha! Afterward, we ventured off campus in order to get some more shots of scenery on the way to some interviews:

Action shot of Bruce & Lit :)

Kids from the village loved having their picture taken & seeing it afterwards!

Honestly, it was more than a little rough witnessing the drastic changes from the almost-like-home comforts of Zamorano’s campus with clean water, plenty of food, WiFi, and other “normal” wants and comforts, to the villages we drove through outside of Teguc.  The scenery stayed just as beautiful, but the quality of life did not.  I’d never seen anyplace like it.  There is such poverty with lack of medical resources, food, and other basic necessities that I just wanted to bring every person I met back to my comfy, clean, healthy home in the states.  Politicians are often so corrupt they steal away money from nutrition programs in village schools.  Water pipes running to the homes we visited can often be contaminated or broken.  We learned that more people worldwide die every year from the results of smoke inhalation from faulty stoves than people do from malaria.  Zamorano’s staff and students try and play their part in helping others in need through certain programs, such as one with which inputs safer stoves into homes, reducing the amount of fuel needed and making it healthier for generations to come…

Not being able to help those families who need it more than anyone I’d ever met in my life is something I struggled with while we were in the village, once we were back to Zamorano, and still struggle with now that I’m back at school.  I feel it’s so cliche to say that I came away from this experience learning again to “be grateful with what I have”, but it’s true.  But I want it to be more.  What to do, what to do?…

Friday night had us in the capital of Honduras interviewing a graduate of Zamorano.  I don’t want to give away anything specific that will be in final cuts of the documentary, but this guy is a real pay-it-forward model.  Believe it or not, we had amazing an Italian dinner at a restaurant of cousin of a Zamorano rep. we had been working with that night!

Saturday morning had all of us up early once again before the sun.  Final interviews with a pair of amazing women were completed, and we were off to the airport, bound back to Miami then Boston.  Unfortunately, workers of American Airlines had other plans for us!  Because of their strike, our plane was cancelled.  Determined to make the best of our situation, we enjoyed some yummy Honduran food in the city crazy with traffic before heading back to the airport to reschedule flights.  AA put us all up in a nice hotel for the night with taxi and dinner included.  After a 4hr layover in Miami, we were finally on our way back to Boston.  Despite the few minor snags, all in all a safe and super successful trip.  — In the next few days I hope to have a reflection piece coming :)

HONDURAS DAY 2

Hola! For those of you not my friend on Facebook, here are a couple of easy links to my iPhone albums day 1 and day 2.  I’ve also been taking pictures with Bruce’s HD digital camera: HD album, so you can creep all the pics that I’ve put up! Those of you who are on Facebook, check out and “like” The Visionaries home page— they’re pretty cool people :) This post is bombarded with pictures. I just want you all to actually SEE how beautiful this place is!

So far this trip, 3:40 a.m. is the go-to wake-up time! When there’s something exciting going on, I’m definitely a happy morning person. And you’ll probably agree a full day of filming at U of Zamorano is something to look forward to =) However, over the past two nights, only nine hours of sleep is bound to catch up with me sooner or later! I’m pretending that it’s going to be later– gotta keep on with my “mind over matter” mantra. Anyways, everybody in our lovely little guest house was up a full two hours before the Honduran sunrise. Swift showers all around followed by brewing coffee (none for me, thanks) and snacking on toast with Mango jam! We clambered into our personal bus/taxi with loads of gear and drove to the other side of campus to the cows. I’m really not a fan of these big animals and their moo-ing and pooping glory (although I love a good glass of freezing skim milk), but here’s some pics from our “fragrant” morning. I’d also appreciate a loud round of virtual applause for not wiping out in the muck.

Once finished with the cows, we went out to the road for some bike shots. Here’s me being all film-tastic and getting in on the action:

We headed over to where some students were “learning by doing” (one of Zamorano’s four pillars of learning) in the field. Each student gets a plot of land to grow whatever they choose. After taking care of the plants through the season, they are free to sell their harvest! How awesome!

Gorgeous landscape on campus

I love this campus.

After being up for 4 hours already, by 7:30 it was time for breakfast round two, catered by one of the cafeterias on campus: eggs, cheese, bacon-ish, beans, tortilla, fried platanos. Yum!

We then interviewed the president of this university! A cool picture from the shoot is currently unavailable, but will be at some point. My job during the interview was to keep the mesh light reflector from blowing in the wind and messing up the lighting angles. I’m sort of acting as the helper to the Visionaries crew, doing whatever they need, and I couldn’t be happier.

We spent the afternoon traveling by Jeep up the nearby Uyuca Mountain, a biological reserve, to get shots of scenery, learn about forestry expeditions students do, and interview some people who live on the mountain. In the interview with our guide from Colorado who is a passionate associate professor at Zamorano and has traveled extensively, I learned a lot about the work students do. In certain classes, they collect data from plants, while others helped rebuilt the forest after bugs attacked certain trees. I know that sounds simple, but he explained it so impressively– it’s just neat that students are physically active in nature and the community around their school (buzz word?: cloud forest).

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Finally a picture of the crew =) !
Right to left: Bruce (Visionaries camera), Jody (Visionaries producer), me (production assistant), Lit (Visionaries audio), Mary Ellen (US Zamorano rep.)

We’ve been doing interviews for the documentary with a male senior student from Ecuador, and a female student from Guatemala.  Both of them are so friendly, like all the students on campus :)  And, yes, we’re obviously new Facebook friends!  Everyone appreciates the little Spanish that I know, but I’m enjoying being able to listen and follow along.

Seeing and learning about all the students at Zamorano, both Honduran and international is such an amazing experience.  Their college education is so different than mine; I’m both jealous and fortunate.  More reflections to come… For now, a bit of sleep!

In Honduras Day #1

Ahh, hello Honduras!!  =)  Can you believe it!?  Jody, Lit and Bruce (two Visionaries crew members), Mary Ellen (a US Zamorano rep.) and I had a heck of a travel day, but my excitement is through the roof; I’m just so happy to be here in the middle of the filming action experiencing it all!

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Picture on campus!

Here’s some background info: Jody and I drove from Springfield to Boston yesterday evening.  After dinner, we caught a short but sweet 5.5 hours of sleep.  Aside from the fact that rain started showering in through a gap between the hotel wall and our room’s window, pounding onto the tin radiator in the middle of the night, we had no problems (lol but seriously).  Today, we were up at 3:40 a.m., at the airport at 5 after minor route recalculations, boarded by 6:30, and finally took off around 8:15.  This 1.5-hour delay cut our time a bit close for our connection from Miami to Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, but with a bit of hustle, we made it in plenty of time.  With the two-hour time difference, we landed at about 12:40 p.m. and were taken care of through customs by Zamorano representatives, which put us all at ease.  A 40-minute bus/taxi ride through different sections of the city brought us out into more country to the University of Zamorano.

This is my first time visiting Central America, and first time in any developing country.  It was an experience driving through poverty on the outskirts of the capital city, while beautiful mountains of trees surrounded our dark green VW minivan.  Pepsi, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, and 7UP signs were cardboard blurs as we wove in and out of some tight traffic.  Small children ran barefoot on gravely roads carrying fruit, probably to their family’s roadside stand.  Sounds of Spanish permeated the air we breathed as we drove to our destination, the University of Zamorano…

Our first look at an outdoor “Learning-by-Doing” classroom

Once on campus, we had a late lunch and went out touring and exploring campus.  I’m not exaggerating one bit when I’m telling you this campus is absolutely beautiful.  What we’ve seen so far consists of mostly one- or two-story buildings of very pretty stone with really nice dark woodwork.  The campus’s caretakers look after their lawn, flowers, etc. just like ours at Springfield.  They also abide by the unspoken “don’t cut corners or walk on the grass” rule that we do.

“Teach the youth of today, so we can feed the world of tomorrow” (or something to that degree)! Love it!!!

It looks as if our schedule for the rest of our time here is jam-packed!!  I’m so excited for what lies ahead :)  Here’s a shot of the sky we enjoyed tonite:

Thanks again to everybody following!!  More news and updates to come =)