The Journey of One American School Bus
The transformation of an old American school bus into a brightly-colored public bus in Guatemala speaks volumes about our globalized world.
Directed by Mark Kendall
Produced by Mark Kendall, Rafael González
Editor: Mark Kendall
Co-Editor: Shannon Kennedy
Cinematographer: Mark Kendall
Orignal Music: T. Griffin
Consulting Producer: Bernardo Ruiz
Executive Producer: Esther Robinson
A Follow Your Nose Films production
Note: There are two versions of this program on the same DVD: 72-minutes and 52-minutes.
"An upbeat story of resilience, regeneration and artistic imagination." Stephen Holden, New York Times
Every day dozens of decommissioned school buses leave the United States on a southward migration that carries them to Guatemala, where they are repaired, repainted, and resurrected as the brightly-colored camionetas that bring the vast majority of Guatemalans to work each day. Since 2006, nearly 1,000 camioneta drivers and fare-collectors have been murdered for either refusing or being unable to pay the extortion money demanded by local Guatemalan gangs.
La Camioneta follows one such bus on its transformative journey: a journey between North and South, between life and death, and through an unfolding collection of moments, people, and places that serve to quietly remind us of the interconnected worlds in which we live.
Grade Level: 7-12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2013
Copyright Date: 2012
DVD ISBN: 1-93777-284-5
"An amazing film that manages to capture the complexity, nuance, and emotion behind the ties that bind the United States to Guatemala, and many places like it. Kendall shows not only the fascinating life cycle of a former U.S. school bus but the many ways it intersects with people's daily lives in the violent context of Guatemala. With compelling visuals, an empathic and informative story line, and an important message, this is a film not to be missed. It is one of those rare films that will be valuable for classroom use, but equally compelling as documentary info-tainment. Highly recommended."
Edward Fischer, Director of Center for Latin American Studies, Professor of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University, Author, Cultural Logics and Global Economics
"La Camioneta is the true origin story of a bus and the men convert it from yellow school bus States to a distinctly Guatemalan work of art. Kendall looks for the good in the life of these people, certainly capturing their struggles and problems, but above all, finding an uplifting story from a place that needs more of such stories. This positive story of hope, creativity, and perseverance in one of Guatemala City's most dangerous neighborhoods offers a powerful positive view of a country that is still raw from decades of political and social violence."
Walter E. Little, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Director of the Institute for Mesoamerican Studies, SUNY at Albany
"Using a bus as a vehicle to show the lives of Guatemalans, La Camioneta provides unique insights into the economic realities that average Guatemalans face in making ends meet in a situation of increasing conflict and violence. The movie leaves the viewer with a greater awareness of the daily struggles facing Guatemalans."
Paul Winters, Professor of Economics, American University
"With keen sensitivity to the details of everyday life, La Camioneta follows the travels and transformation of an aging yellow school bus...Along the way the bus is presented as a powerful site for the expression of hopes and fears of the men who own and operate the vehicle. At heart, the film is a rich reflection on the quiet hopes and efforts of a small group of Guatemalans struggling to support their families in the context of the larger flow of people and goods, as well as the violence that can accompany these. People both familiar with Guatemala or knowing little of the country will be moved by this film."
Carol Hendrickson, Professor of Anthropology, Marlboro College, Author, Weaving Identities: Construction of Dress and Self in a Highland Guatemala Town
"A creative, riveting and deeply moving tale of the unexpected ties between the United States and Central America, and the joys and risks of everyday survival. A must-see for students and all those interested in social justice in Latin America."
Elizabeth Oglesby, Associate Professor, Geography and Development, Center for Latin American Studies, University of Arizona, Author, The Guatemala Reader: History, Culture, Politics
"La Camioneta is one of those rare films that packs its punch so modestly that viewers don't know what hit them until the credits roll. With zero narration, the film's protagonists speak for themselves, and the audience slowly but inexorably becomes entirely engrossed in the journey of one American school bus to Guatemala, a country still reeling from the latent effects of a thirty-year civil war. In a documentary film industry replete with self-congratulation, La Camioneta's quiet but profound message rings truer than those of most other documentaries out there."
Jean-Marie Simon, Photojournalist, Author of Guatemala: Eternal Spring, External Tyranny
"Thought-provoking...Delivers an uncommon take on the economic struggles and cultural differences in the daily lives of Guatemalan society...The story is creatively and tastefully expressed. The movie is highly recommended for older audiences and would be an educational plus for any public or academic library collection."
Deidra N. Herring, Ohio State University, Educational Media Reviews Online
"A true-life documentary...Offers an unforgettable glimpse into humanity's daily struggles. Highly recommended."
The Midwest Book Review
"Offers a compelling consideration of how the Guatemalans work together to transform a cast-off into something that is both useful and artistically inspiring...This engaging slice of Latin American cultural life is recommended."
P. Hall, Video Librarian
"We watch as a painter meticulously works restorative magic on one bus and observe a priest blessing a fleet of the reborn school buses and their drivers. Kendall unobtrusively takes a backseat to the drivers, artisans, and mechanics, who talk about their journeys."
Donald Liebenson, ALA Booklist
"The year 2013 offered particularly good examples of the nebulous lines that demarcate political cinema-it was a year that reminded us that if some films will always carry political significance, many have it enhanced by context, by touching on a subject of particular import for the current moment...[La Camioneta's] strength comes from its understatement-only a few scenes are needed for us to see the violence Ermelindo and others like him face; the rest of the time is spent showing us how they live through it."
Tomas Hachard, Fandor
"Quietly moving...is as modest and farsighted as its cast of Guatemalans who make a living resurrecting discarded American school buses...La Camioneta is not a graphic exposé of the horrors born of desperate poverty. It is an upbeat story of resilience, regeneration and artistic imagination. For all the perils they face, the Guatemalan drivers, dealers and mechanics are able to make a living from American refuse and in the process turn the buses into mobile works of folk art."
Stephen Holden, The New York Times
"Kendall's eye for untold stories, as well as his instinct for catching evocatively framed images on the fly, mark him as a name to watch...Featuring sharply intuitive camerawork, the film looks great...and manages to convey the striking beauty of the Guatemalan countryside without brushing past the destitution of so many who live there."
Andrew Parker, Variety
"Delicate and raw...Incredibly artistic...La Camioneta is a fantastic documentary, which I definitely recommend to all audiences, especially to those with an interest in eye opening individual stories that the news doesn't tell you about."
Andrea Lestrange, The Movie Blog
"The bus itself narrates the opening passages, establishing a storybook tone that Kendall maintains throughout the movie. This sense of childlike wonder, and the respect accorded everyone involved in prolonging the bus's usefulness, are all the more impressive given that Kendall concludes with a sobering assessment of widespread civilian violence in Central America."
Ben Sachs, Chicago Reader
"Kendall, working as his own cinematographer, gives the proceedings a striking look that compellingly captures both the astonishing beauty and grim poverty of the land...This is a smart and engaging work."
Peter Sobczynski, RogerEbert.com
"La Camioneta is a poetic, even dreamy, film that ultimately conveys the mystical sense of a transmigrated (mechanical) soul. This wildly colorful vehicle seems totally at home, a point the filmmaker reinforces with a flashback to the same bus, regulation yellow and black, being driven through an empty, sterile suburb."
J. Hoberman, ARTINFO
"A film that's rich in detail and character observation...An intimate and vivid report on a surprising connection between North and Central America...The concise and well-constructed film looks destined to continue a successful fest-circuit journey, and would be a fine fit for small-screen venues that welcome adventurous nonfiction fare...As much as it is an alarmed look at dark doings, the film is also a celebration of ingenuity."
Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter
"Remarkable...A brilliant microhistory of our globalized world...It distills the poetics of an epic journey into a powerful miniature: its story of a handful of Guatemalan men who purchase, transport, refurbish, and recycle a decommissioned [Pennsylvania] school bus is both a graceful, ground-level portrait of Guatemala's working class and a cri de coeur from the shadows of affluence."
Matt Brennan, Thompson On Hollywood
"Documentarian Mark Kendall presents the journey of the camioneta with incredible grace and elegance, exposing what is remarkable in the mundane and the tediousness in everyday life...An experience that is deeply poetic."
Craig Kennedy and Jackson Truax, Living in Cinema
"Mark Kendall has come up with a very simple, delicate, and surprisingly gripping way of shedding light onto a very complex inter-connected economy...We learn about the structures and the dynamics that support and drive the American school bus taken out of a solely American context as we ride along for its many road trips, where it can experience bribery requests, robberies, and explosions, but also becomes a temple for the drivers' prayers, and even a float in a religious parade, filled with excited children and sporting carnival adornments."
Diego Costa, Slant Magazine
2 versions on same DVD: 72 minutes and 52 minutes. Subtitles: English or Spanish. With closed captioning for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and scene selection.
The film's website
The producer's website
Awards and Festivals
The Chris Statuette, Columbus International Film+Video Festival
David L. Wolper Award, International Documentary Association
Critics' Pick, New York Times
Indiewire's List of "Top Docs of 2013"
CINE Golden Eagle Award
Best Hispanic Film, Nashville Film Festival
Best Documentary, CineSol Film Festival
Special Jury Mention for Best Documentary, Nashville Film Festival
Special Jury Mention for Best Documentary, New England Festival of Ibero-American Cinema
SXSW Film Festival
Los Angeles Film Festival
Big Sky Documentary Film Festival
Starz Denver Film Festival
Cleveland International Film Festival
Philadelphia Film Festival
Heartland Film Festival
Festival Int'l de Cine en Guadalajara (CUCSH)
Portland International Film Festival
Santiago Festival Internacional de Cine (SANFIC)
Minneapolis / St. Paul International Film Festival
It's All True International Documentary Film Festival, Sao Paulo, BRAZIL
RiverRun International Film Festival
AFI Latin American Film Festival
Cinequest Film Festival
Arizona International Film Festival
San Diego Latino Film Festival
Seattle Latino Film Festival
Vancouver Latin American Film Festival
Cine+Mas San Francisco Latino Film Festival
Boston Latino International Film Festival
Festival ICARO, Guatemala
Salem Film Fest
Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival
Central America/The Caribbean
Latin American Studies
Migration and Refugees
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In Whose Interest?
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... more Reviews
"A work of sociological significance as well as a surprisingly personal account of a community that has ensured its survival by salvaging these buses...La Camioneta is at once an insightful documentary and a poignant allegory. A novel and topical story draws viewers in; the illumination of very honest, human issues residing within will keep them in their seats. Even if it's just for a few stops, we will all find ourselves passengers on the same bus eventually."
Emma Bernstein, Indiewire
"Documentary filmmakers can make any number of mistakes with their first features. Casting too wide a net is one of the most common. La Camioneta avoids that pothole, beautifully...Elegant and fluid...Well worth seeing."
Michael Phillips, The Chicago Tribune
"La Camioneta wrings an extraordinary amount of humanity and geopolitical insight from its subject...The exegesis, then, is ultimately up to the viewer, and this light touch works wonderfully. With shrewd camerawork and editing, Kendall's film looks amazing and feels fluid. Culminating with a scene depicting a priest blessing a host of brightly colored, newly restored camionetas before their inaugural voyages, the visual grandeur alone makes it nearly impossible not to superimpose a spiritual life onto these inanimate objects. The life behind La Camioneta absolutely continues beyond what we can see or touch."
Scott Wold, Paste Magazine