Maria Finitzo, the Peabody Award-winning Producer and Director of Mapping Stem Cell Research: Terra Incognita, recently went on a pre-production trip to Bolivia with collaborators Mike Kennedy and Dr. Bill Leonard for her new Kartemquin project Encounters with the Other. The trip was full of such adventures as only documentary filmmakers could imagine, and we thought we'd give you the inside scoop!
One of the primary reasons for the trip was to get permission from the Tsimane people to make the film. The first part of the trip took them to San Borja. From there, getting into the amazon started with a two-hour van ride on a pretty terrible road, and an eight-hour ride in a dugout canoe. The canoe had a motor but no seats. The passengers sat on logs, which, according to Maria, “is easy enough when you're 5'0'' ft, but when you're 6'5'' like Mike Kennedy, it can be a pretty difficult ride.”
It's dry season in Bolivia, so the river was very low and looked like moving mud, but the crew saw the Tsimane people coming out in their canoes, fishing and swimming.
The crew slept in an open schoolhouse with bats nesting in the ceiling. Because the floor was dirty and they needed to avoid snakes and spiders, they pushed together some school desks. Once they put down their sleeping mats and stretched out mosquito netting, they were completely encased.
Says Maria: “the next morning the mosquito netting was covered in bat-shit, 'cause you can hear them flying around all night, and they're just over your head whizzing by...eating bugs, so that's okay. In the morning I woke up around dawn, listening to two little Tsimane kids giggle, 'cause they were looking in the window at me.”
After a breakfast of bread and hot chocolate, Tomas, the crew's main contact, guide, and interpreter, called the Tsimane together for a meeting. Once everybody in the community had come together, he told them about the film, and the villagers talked about it. “At the end of the meeting, they very graciously said that they were willing to be in the film,” and Maria promised to come back in October.
After the council, the crew went on a tour of the village and spent most of the day filming. Maria was impressed with how friendly and happy the Tsimane people are, and how simply they live their lives.
The crew spent a second night in the schoolhouse, and woke up to find that rain had made everything incredibly slippery. After another eight hours in a canoe, they found out that the road between the landing and San Borja had washed off, so they had to wait six hours just to be able to get through. “It was a fairly harrowing ride back.”
In San Borja, more surprises awaited them: their flight to La Paz had been over-sold, and the airline had kicked them off. And because the road between San Borja and La Paz has been called the mostdangerous road in the world, they couldn't drive. Tomas was able to arrange for a small plane to fly them to a connecting city. The plane had no seat belts, and the co-pilot made a sign of the cross before take-off, but the crew reached La Paz without further incidents.
After such an extraordinary, whirlwind trip, Maria says that she now knows what she is up against, and what she has to do when she goes back. Plans for October include a you-can't-kill-it-kind-of-proof camera. We wish them luck, and we'll keep you updated!
With a noted tradition of nurturing emerging talent and acting as a leading voice for independent media, Kartemquin is building on more than 50 years of history as Chicago’s documentary powerhouse.
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