A year ago today, we were in Guatemala documenting the implosion of Becoming Fools.
We were three days away from a big theatrical event called “Voz de las Calles”, which was the culmination of five months of rehearsals with street youth and professional entertainers. The road had not been entirely smooth. In fact, there were some major hurdles along the way. But, with the help of gracious volunteers, it looked like they were going to pull it off.
And then … three days before the show, the bottom dropped out …
One of the street youth with a leading role in the play had been in drug rehabilitation for a year. Three days before the show, he left his rehab and went back to the streets to consume drugs. My heart was broken. This guy wasn’t a “street youth” to me – he was a friend. I was rooting for him and his peers as they wrestled towards their goal of performing on a Guatemalan Broadway Stage.
A year ago today, we didn’t know if they would be able to pull it off. It seemed impossible:
Most of the cast were youth who still lived in the streets
The original director wrecked his motorcycle and couldn’t continue with the project
Funds had not been raised to pay for the theater rental
The cast had never finished the entire play in rehearsal
One of the lead characters left the show 3 days before the event
We didn’t know what would happen a year ago, but we all walked forward in faith .. Becoming Fools.
We captured a beautiful story that walks a tightrope between tragedy and comedy.
Fast forward to today …
We feel much like we did a year ago. It seems impossible.
We never raised the money needed to finish the film. But we believed in the project, so we subsidized it with our blood, sweat, tears, and personal savings.
Diving into documentary production is like diving into the ocean. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, but you can easily drown in it.
A year ago today I said goodbye to my family to spend 2 1/2 months in Guatemala producing Becoming Fools. At the time, I was anxious to get to Guatemala to start capturing the story. I had been directing the production from the US for a couple months and that proved to be quite frustrating. Every day there was a new conflict and obstacle that seemed to distract forward momentum. At least that’s what it felt like, because bad news travels fast – especially when you are trying to do something good. So, I hopped on a plane to dive into this film and immerse myself in something I felt called to do.
I thought my presence in Guatemala would somehow bring continuity to production. I thought that things would be easier once I was physically in the country. But, I thought wrong. Proximity to conflict doesn’t give you any advantage to control it. It wasn’t any easier. It was just a different kind of difficulty – and in many ways, even more difficult. I was simply closer to the waves that kept crashing down on everything and was quickly carried out to sea just like everyone else. But I know two things about waves that also hold true for documentary film production:
Don’t fight the current
Never swim alone
Charles Dickens was onto something when he wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …” That prophetic description held true for the Becoming Fools production. It was grueling. It was stressful. It was absolutely heart wrenching at times. But, it was also one of the most joyful times of my life. I locked arms with close friends and purposefully dove into the crushing breakers with them because we believed in something greater than ourselves. We were all swept away by the crashing waves and pushed beyond our comfort zones. But somehow, “together was better” because we weren’t swimming alone. It was this community – this mutual trust and interdependency that gave us confidence to keep going in the face of enormous adversity. We all dove in together.
This is what you call irony – because in reality, none of us knew how to swim in the first place.
None of us had the capacity to accomplish the goal. All of us had failed at some point. We weren’t the dream team and at times it felt like a real nightmare. But somehow our group of incapable individuals was made capable, because it was called together by the One who makes all things possible. In this calling, my incapacity gives someone else strength … and vice versa, when we are committed to each other in the collaborative process.
But working together it isn’t easy. It’s ugly and full of dysfunction in the process. We all make mistakes at times and hurt each other in ways that would seem to prevent anything from being accomplished. A group of frightened people climbing on each other, gasping for air to survive in a surging tide will almost certainly drown each other. But we have a life raft if we will choose the right perspective. Somehow over the long run, the ugliness cancels itself out in a beautiful algebraic expression of grace, if the equation is built on a constant of God’s love. That love makes up for our mistakes and turns our pride of self ambition into a sacrifice for others. Thankfully, that love is a life raft big enough for all of us.
I dove into the ocean of documentary production hoping to make a difference in the lives of youth living in the streets. I’ve spent the last year being tossed around by a current I cannot control, and I still have no idea where it’s taking me. But, with help from my fellow fools, I’ll keep holding on to this life raft of love that transforms an ocean filled with broken people into an ark of redeeming grace, capable of bringing hope to distant shores.
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Why do we keep marching forward in something that seems so foolish?
Seriously, sometimes I wonder if I am just stubborn or stupid. Either way, we are foolish for marching forward. Today, I finally finished editing Becoming Fools … and … we received our first response back from a film festival in which we submitted the film. It went like this:
“I’m sorry to inform you that your project was not selected … Best of luck with your future projects.”
Not the most encouraging news on this milestone of production …
Now, let me set the stage for this message. I’ve been working on the Becoming Fools documentary for two years; full time for the last year and a half. And really … Full time is an understatement. It’s more like 16 hours a day, 6 days a week. I don’t share this for sympathy. I share it to reinforce the fact that I am truly, without a doubt … foolish.
From the very beginning, every step of this journey has been foolish. It’s been a marathon of impossible hurdles strung together to taunt our souls to give up:
▪ The protagonist of the story died while we were in pre-production.
▪ Amelia and I lost our day jobs within 3 weeks of each other & we were left without secure income.
▪ Our Kickstarter fundraiser failed to raise the funds we needed to produce the film.
▪ Funds were not raised to pay for the live theatrical event which is documented in the film.
▪ The lead character of the live theatrical event quit and went back to the streets.
▪ 485 hours of footage needed to be translated before we could edit it down to feature length
▪ The edit took 5 months of working 16 hours a day, six days a week.
▪ We missed the opportunity to enter several large film festivals for the season.
▪ Technical difficulties made finalizing the edit very difficult.
▪ Our 1st Film Festival notice was negative.
▪ We don’t have any funds to release the film.
… And yet we continue …. WHY?
There are days in which I wonder if I have wasted the last few years of my life investing into this foolish endeavor. Somedays it stings the very core of my being and I feel like a total failure.
But then I take a deep breath and remember why we started this project: it is a story that needs to be shared so that it may inspire.
What is failure? What is foolish? Italo could be considered both. He lived his life according to the passion that God gave him. He risked his life in dangerous city streets to care for kids who were not likely to change. In fact, most of the kids he cared for still wrestle with some sort of addiction and never totally left the streets. But Italo didn’t die in the streets where he risked his life. And … His passion was reborn into not just one person, but an entire community of fools that believe they can make a difference together.
Was Italo a fool? Yes. Was he a failure? Absolutely not.
Like Italo, we continue because we ARE fools living life according to the passion God has given us, and with that established, there is no way we can fail. So we keep marching forward …
Will you consider giving a tax-deductible donation to help us finish this story & make a difference in the lives of homeless youth?
Athentikos served on a leadership team with Lemonade International & Vidas Plenas to host an annual Art Camp
for 100 at-risk kids in the community of La Limonada. Guatemala.
Athentikos provided over 70% of the funding through individual donations
and a grant given by LEGO.
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In preparing for my return trip to Guatemala to help on production for Becoming Fools, I heard a lot of keywords of what to expect like tired, loco, busy, long, tired, hectic, tired, etc…I tried to plan ahead with which audio adapters to bring and just be mentally ready for the hard work and long hours ahead. After a minor scare of not finding my bag right away, Bobby and Tyler showed up at the airport and we all made our way cleanly through security and customs with all the gear, thank God. I had flown out a little earlier and gone through Dallas while they flew through Miami, and we both landed in Guatemala City at right about the same time, but an hour late, go figure.
We were a little too late to make it to our first rehearsal to see what all the kids had been working on, so opted for some KFC and settling in at Joel’s. Evidently, we had missed quite an eventful rehearsal as one of the main characters in the Voz De Las Calles production, Mefi, had left the cast after missing several rehearsals and then showing up under the influence and fighting with the other cast and crew. We began to feel some uncertainty as to how well this whole event was going to come off but pressed on and hoped for the best as we continued planning.
The day before Voz De Las Calles, our whole team held a morning production meeting with a local film producer named Rafa to help us prepare and film the event. It was a great meeting from a production side as we got everything lined up and we were encouraged by everyone offering their resources and talents to pull this thing off well.
At the Friday night rehearsal, the eve of the performance, we were hopeful to have the cast of kids finally get through the entire performance at the rehearsal theater, but it didn’t exactly turn out that way. Believe it or not, it’s actually quite a challenge to get all of these different performers, volunteers, let alone kids living out on the streets, together at the same time for hours enough to rehearse a large production all the way through. But instead, we worked on several scenes and saw a lot of the kids displaying the new talents they had been working on for months, and then the director gathered everyone together and all sat down on the stage in a big circle. What happened next was even better than finishing a rehearsal as they began to share their hearts, their struggles and accomplishments thus far, their purpose for pressing ahead, and then they gave thanks to God and lifted each other and this special performance up to Him in prayer. I could just feel God stirring in hearts and smiling down on this special group.
Saturday, performance day, we headed to the theater to set up and get establishing shots. As we tried to prepare in this beautiful venue I was just hopeful that the kids would make it through the performance all right. It was a real treat to see all the actors and crew and musicians and photographers buzzing around backstage. So many people there giving their time and talent to this project. It was also really fun watching the kids get transformed into all the different clown makeup. The energy for the performance was really building and then we were all surprised by who showed up next…Mefi!
Fortunately Scott and I got to rush over and capture a humbled Mefi return to apologize and accept the consequences of his actions. He knew that he had messed up but still just wanted to be a part of the play in any way that he could. He then had a really hard conversation with the director, accepted that he would not get to perform his original part, but again asked humbly that he could just be a part of it and said that he didn’t want to give up on his dreams and all the hard work that he, and his friends, had put into this performance, he wanted to be here for himself and for them and was willing to say he was sorry for his actions. And then he was allowed to get his part back!! What an inspirational picture of God’s grace and forgiveness and the truth that he always gives second chances and open arms!
During the play Scott and I stayed backstage to capture all the energy and action. We did get to see a lot from the side stage and also quite a lot of frantic running around, warm up routines, jitters, and a girl struggling to get her stilts on right, it was a little nerve racking! But the most fun part was hearing all the laughter and applause coming from the audience! The performance went really great, and ended in a climactic joyous celebration, amazing! I’m sure that you can’t wait to see it… 😉
Now, this was only 2 days into our production trip! I was continuously inspired in so many ways…
During our trip to Lake Atitlan I was inspired by the strength of a young man Raul, who had to watch his friend and mentor, Italo drown right in front of him, and who was able to share that pain and tell his story at that very lake spot. During one of our many trips into the city streets I was inspired by a business owner who shared the use of his building, roof, and even his security guards to allow us to film and move about getting shots we wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise.
The adventure didn’t come without a little struggle, being in a foreign land and realizing how needy we were for help with direction, translation, transportation, and with our limited resources. So I was especially inspired by the Voncannons who graciously escorted us all around the city to profound areas of ministry, by their own hearts to sacrifice and pour out to very difficult places, meeting people right where they are: hungry, addicted, broken, hurting on the street, and sharing the love of Christ with them. Oh and for a little thing like giving us their van for a couple of days so we could actually get around and film, amazing!
Other sources of inspiration: our incredible team! Scott our fearless leader and master of the BRPs, Amelia getting amazing stills and our underwater filmmaking champion, Bobby making us all look good and driving like a boss, Tyler Balboa keeping the momentum alive with the eye of the tiger, Ericha coordinating and taking care of business, Darlene with the creative vision and fresh dance moves, plus all the help from Joel, Jonathan, Josue, Dave, Mono, of course Hubert, helping us conquer Pacaya, Nathalie, Brandon- you guys are the best! And pretty much every day seeing all of God’s beauty, Lake Atitlan, hiking Panajachel past a 75′ high waterfall, lightning storms, amazing sunsets, and on top of a freaking live volcano walking over liquid hot magma!
We had so many more adventures, trials, and triumphs, and the theme set here would continue throughout the entire trip…things didn’t always (ever?) go quite as we planned, but God was always faithful to our efforts and He allowed us to see and capture more than we could have even planned for in any production timeline. I was inspired in many other unexpected ways, even in a coffee shop in Panajachel called Crossroads. I got to see God orchestrate events and connect us together in unexpected ways to tell His story of Grace. We may seem limited, but He has no limits, for His purpose and glory, and I can’t wait to see how this story unfolds!
It is crazy to believe that a little over a month ago I was in Guatemala with some amazing people, spreading the Gospel and capturing life in a very raw sense. I have been out of the United States several times, but this was the first trip that had a layered agenda, to document a broken world in hopes to rebuild it, to help people along the way, to show and share love, and to bring back the need for help and share that with others. I thought that was going to be the extent of what happened on this journey, but little did I know, it would change my life in a significant manner.
If someone would come up to me and say, “would you help us shoot a documentary out of the country for a couple of weeks?” Without a doubt I would say yes, however this wasn’t just some ordinary excursion of a documentary, rather this is a sequel if you will. Athentikos’s first documentary “Reparando” weighed heavily on my heart upon watching it. The film gave insight to various serious issues in Guatemala and the need for outside help, because help within is sparse. The documentary showed me how shattered a civilization, yet at the same time how Guatemalans continue to trudge forward and overcome adversity. With that said, that was even more of a push for me to go on this trip to document footage for Athentikos’s second documentary “Becoming Fools”.
I will admit I was scared to go to a country I had never been to, where there would be some culture shock and where I could personally experience some adversity. I went down there blindly, only knowing one person, Bobby Marko. I knew I was going to serve a loving and gracious God, so with that instilled in me, everything was going to be just fine.
Upon my arrival to Guatemala I had a warm welcoming from the Athentikos crew, as well as a lot of Español! I knew I had made the right decision the second I met everyone. From there on I knew I was there to minister, serve and do my job as a camera operator so we can influence the rest of the world and bring this story to them. The one thing I wasn’t counting on was changing my own outlook.
Without stringing this on, I was broken of my own walls and priorities, God showed me a side of life I had never seen before and He wasn’t holding anything back. Visualize this, a child who is barely a teenager, or even younger, who is just now entering the 6th grade. To us we would see them as a youthful being, probably playing a sport after school or doing some sort of extra curricular activity. In the United States we see the youth as a precious generation. Yet if we take this same age and apply it to a child in Guatemala, they are probably living on the street, don’t have a family, hardly any education, are malnourished and addicted to any drug they can get their hands on.
For me, seeing children struggling to live, to look to the future and see no hope, to not know love or God just kills me inside. To experience their lives as we did was so shocking, eye-opening, and at the same time humbling. If I could pick a day that impacted me the most, it would be a day when we were just driving around looking for children selling goods on the streets. We encountered a group of people ranging 10 to about 40 years old. We got out and did some interviews with them, but what became glaringly clear is how these children and adults were coping with their street life, and that was by huffing solvent. It is one thing for me to see a grown man or woman doing drugs, but when you see a 10-year old child huffing solvent just to quench their hunger, it does something to you. And even more so while we were interviewing these children the local police drove by and honked at us to get out of the street, and you can see that they could care less about the children who are addicted to drugs not but 5 feet from us. In a sense, as I am writing this, I am speechless because words cannot describe how hopeless these children and adults are, how this is their release, and that to them this is the best way to live.
If there was one thing that can influence/inspire others to lend a hand and support the street kids of Guatemala, I would say that the severe dependence on drugs is the most motivating factor. Now don’t get me wrong, not all hope is lost, there are some children who, with guidance, find a way out of the addiction, but the lack of guidance and love is what is keeping the other kids on the street.
I think that the documentary “Becoming Fools” will change peoples’ lives and break them in the same way this experience broke me. It will make you not only want to help these street kids, but it will make you re-evaluate your own life. We are so fortunate and have so many resources readily available to us that we live a sheltered life. I was living a sheltered comfortable life myself, living day to day, finding happiness in monetary items, and not praising God the way I should. Yet to see a child smile or a glimpse of hope in their eye because you are there to help them, to show them a way out of the darkness and spread that word to others around the world… that is the meaning of life and that is where true happiness should be found, in knowing you are helping someone else in their life struggle and that because of you and the faith you have, these kids have hope and see a brighter future. I would say “I have been fooled,” that I was a prime example of someone who needed a wake up call and that I had been tricked by a material world. Yet to have become a fool and realize what life really is about is the most rewarding factor of it all.
Guatemala’s statistics seem hopeless, but we believe we can make a difference because we are Becoming Fools. We spent the afternoon with an incredibly sweet family who are featured in Becoming Fools. A single mother who was deaf and mute, was murdered in February, leaving her four children to live with their grandmother. That is sad enough … but the story continues. These children sell candy on the streets at night to help their grandmother make ends meet financially. In fact, the eleven year old son had to sell candy on the streets the day after his mother’s death in order to pay for her coffin. This reality is what we hope to document in our documentary, Becoming Fools.
I stepped on a plane on April 23 to travel to Guatemala to continue production … and haven’t stopped since. We continue to document the story that unfolds before us. It is sad at times, and often overwhelmingly so. But we have also witnessed incredible joy as street youth prepare for their theatrical event on June, 16. These precious kids who were once only familiar faces have become friends and we are thrilled to watch them grow. It will be difficult to capture their stage performance because I know our eyes will be full of tears!
As we had hoped, Becoming Fools is more than a film. We believe it is a movement!
Momentum has grown in ways that we could have never imagined. In addition to film production, we have engaged in meetings with NGO’s, GO’s, churches and media to plan the week long event named Festival: Voz De Las Calles (Voice of the Streets). Groups and organizations are collaborating like never before, and rallying together around the idea that “together is better”.
We are more than tired. Our journey has been a trail of impossibilities and we still have a ways to go. We are the under dog – under staffed, under funded, and told by many that we cannot accomplish what we set out to do. But we choose to believe that all things are possible because we are Becoming Fools.
Seek the journey that seems impossible & out of reach. That is where you find true friends.
The last three weeks have been full and diverse. Actually, diverse is a nice way of saying stretched thin. We’ve had long days of meetings, researching, scouting, production, logging footage, editing … and more meetings. Toss in lack of sleep and heavy subject matter and you have the perfect scenario to brew a typhoon of emotions.
We are documenting a story that is uncontrolled – many times it seems as if it has no track at all, winding all over the place and crashing into anything in its path. Conflict makes for a great story, but the trouble is you have to capture it …. In the past three weeks, we have:
• Lost a theatrical director to a motorcycle accident
• Potentially lost a major character to the story who has been in rehab for over a year & wants to move out on his own but probably shouldn’t
• Received news that we were not selected for a grant we hoped to receive that would have greatly helped us finish this film
• Been told by several people that we cannot achieve what we have set out to do
But over the same period of time, we have:
• Secured Guatemalan television coverage and interviews for some of our events
• Witnessed NGOs, Governmental, Evangelical and Catholic organizations join together in cooperation to begin a united front in tackling the issue of street youth
• Partnered with another Guatemalan NGO that is helping to resource the live event
• Been blessed with an incredible new theatrical director for our live event
• Developed a relationship with an international TV media
• Sparked an interest from a marketing guru from Pepsi Guatemala
• Watched the youth grow together as they rehearse for the live event
Ultimately, the thing that matters the most in the list above is the last. That is what keeps us going at the end of the day. We aren’t merely telling a story about an issue, we are telling a very personal story about real people who are trying to break the bondage of their circumstances. When I see these kids faithfully show up every week for rehearsal, it breaks my heart and fills it up at the same time. I have seen them both high on solvent and straight as an arrow. I have seen them on the street, in rehab and back on the street. I have seen them cry out in prayer and laugh hysterically at funny moment. Most importantly, I have seen them … as real people … with dignity.
We have a very long way to go in production, and to be honest, I have no idea how this story will unfold. It is frightening, if not overwhelming to feel responsible for capturing all of this into a story that is as fragile and beautiful as the reality in which we currently drift. But I’m clinging to the hope that we are not merely drifting. Somehow these collisions are intentional in eternity.