Jul 9, 2013

La Camioneta


A very poignant, surprising documentary by Mark Kendall, this film focuses on a unique journey. Who knew that many used American school buses, most of them in perfect shape, are auctioned relatively cheaply? Enterprising people from Guatemala and some countries in Africa buy them to provide privatized public transportation in their countries. What is promptly discarded in the US after a few years of use in pristine, uneventful roads, is transformed into a crowded haven for people who can't afford to have their own transportation in less fortunate countries.
The film begins at such an auction in Pennsylvania, and follows the journey of a handsome yellow school bus and his driver through the treacherous Mexican border, where there are always shakedowns by the authorities, to a village in Guatemala. There, the bus is sold quite expensively to an enterprising dreamer, who has always wanted to drive his own bus. The bus is repainted in lovely colors and shapes by a humble and gifted artist, and blessed by a Catholic priest, so it will be safe from extortion and violence from organized crime, which runs rampant in Guatemala, a very poor country with high levels of crime.
The drivers and their families fear for their safety. A TV report mentions that 130 of them have been killed by the mob. But this is what they do and what they love to do, and there are barely other jobs to choose from.
The entrepreneurial spirit is not exclusive to Americans. Trying to eke out a living in a beautiful, albeit impoverished, unsafe, corrupt, uneducated country, is not enough for men of dignity. They don't have most of the advantages of educated, economically stable people, but they have the same drive to succeed. Many leave and come to the US, and others like them stay behind. They all risk their lives to do better.
Through this journey we get a look at the economic and social disparities, and the resulting symbiosis, (which so many Americans are hell-bent on denying) between the US and countries like Guatemala.
By the end of the paint job, which is made by stenciling, using newspaper and masking tape, one roots and fears for the newly colorful bus and the sweet, resilient people that will make it their transport as they work and fight for a better life.

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