Becoming Fools is a follow-up to the award winning Athentikos documentary, Reparando, released in 2010. Originally, the film was to follow Italo, a professional clown by day who removed his makeup at night to serve youth living in the streets. Shortly after Athentikos began pre-production, Italo drowned in a tragic accident, leaving the film and these street youth without a hero. But death could not erase a life lived authentically. Italo’s peers rallied together around the street youth to help them portray a symbolic story of their lives on a professional stage.
FORM: Documentary, Feature
GENRE: Drama, Reality, Social Issue, Biography
NICHE: Third World, Social Justice, Latino
RUNNING TIME: 80 Minutes
LANGUAGES: Spanish, English
SUBTITLES: English, Spanish
Clowns are funny because they fail.
Love them or hate them, most people have an emotional memory of clowns. Clowns are like the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus, except they’re more colorful …. and more real.
Clowns are important to the story of Becoming Fools for several reasons. The most obvious reason is the fact that Italo was a clown – and not just a clown, but a professional clown. I didn’t understand it when I first heard his story.
“He’s a professional what? A clown? How is that possible? Does he work at a circus?”
I didn’t understand. But I get it now. Clowns are a big deal in Latin America. They’re much more than an icon of childhood. They are a part of the culture. And it isn’t just because Latin Americans love to celebrate.
Clowns represent both comedy and tragedy. Their colorful costumes and exaggerated expressions enable them to add whimsical overtones to some otherwise very tragic stories. I didn’t dial into this when I was a kid. I only saw the laughter. But now it makes sense. Think about it. Clowns are funny because they CAN’T do things or they DON’T HAVE things. Clowns are funny BECAUSE THEY FAIL. If it weren’t for the makeup and outrageous costumes, we’d all be crying for them.
When I think of Guatemala’s tragic history, clowns make perfect sense. Guatemalans have been oppressed for centuries by Spaniard conquerers, Cold War dictators and now drug cartels and gang warfare. In 2011, poverty in Guatemala increased to 55 percent. This IS tragic in a grand scale. But much like the clowns, Guatemala’s tragedy is masked by it’s colorful costume – the flowers … on the trees … on the mountain … under the blue sky and golden sun. Sometimes it is hard to believe that in the midst of such beautiful color, people are hungry.
And if Guatemala has had a tragic story, then these children who live on the street have had the most tragic story of all. For one reason or another, they have fled the security of home because it was not secure. They have fled the comfort of home because it was not comfortable. They have fled the peace of home because there was no peace. And now, they huddle together on the streets in a makeshift family that sadly resembles the disfunction they tried so hard to run away from.
We originally wanted to include the clown theme in this story because Italo was a clown. He began to teach kids living on the street to clown so they could have a job. It was simple and beautiful. But now I realize that Italo was teaching these kids to clown for a deeper reason. Clowning is a performance art. It’s experiential. It’s theatre. And … it’s medicinal. Clowning can help these kids process their tragic stories and better understand their wounds. Clowning can also empower these kids to begin to communicate their stories non-verbally – in a way that crosses culture and language – so that we the audience can begin to understand their needs and respond. Both the clown and the audience have the opportunity to heal.
Clowning captivates a community in the gap between tragedy and comedy. We have an opportunity to look beyond the colorful costumes and connect to people in need. Call me a fool, but I think this is what we are supposed to do. Will you join us?
Behind the Scenes.
Becoming Fools was born during our production of Reparando. We fell in love with Italo Castro’s story: a professional clown who earned his living entertaining children at parties, but who also removed his makeup and cared for street children in his spare time.
We interviewed and captured some footage of Italo in January 2009, and originally intended for his story to be woven into Reparando. But when we began editing the film, we decided that Italo needed his own story.
In November 2010, we were in Guatemala for the premiere of Reparando, and spent some time with Italo to evaluate how best to tell his story. Italo took us to a place called “The Tank”, a dilapidated Pila to meet some “street kids”. We interviewed street youth and two things became very clear: first, that these youth had very tragic stories, and second, that they considered Italo a father figure. We returned to the US committed to producing a feature length documentary about Italo’s story called “Without A Costume” and began pre-production in December 2010.
In February 2011, Italo drowned in a tragic accident that changed everything. Originally, we were going to focus the story on Italo, using symbolic imagery of clowning to tell the story of his passion. Ironically, we didn’t even interview Italo the last time we were together, because we already knew his story, and we were gathering research about the street youth. So, the only footage we had of Italo was what we captured during Reparando. We realized that we needed to tell a different story.
In August 2011, we launched a Kickstarter Campaign that raised $110,000 in pledges, but failed to meet our $150,000 goal needed. So, as part of Kickstarter’s policy, none of those funds were activated. We had nothing … but we still felt called to share this story, so we asked our supporters if they would roll their pledges into our website so we could continue building momentum. We felt confident that we could raise the remaining funds needed to produce the film. As it turned out, only $50,000 of the original $110,000 in pledges were actually given to us … 1/3 of what we knew we needed. But we walked forward in faith, Becoming Fools to a calling (and incidentally, changing the film title to Becoming Fools).
Italo was physically gone, but the legacy of his life continued to echo through the lives of the street youth. They wanted to honor their mentor, so we worked with them using our I Am Art Initiative to empower their dreams. In November 2011, we interviewed over 50 street youth, and people connected to the issue of street children: government workers, church ministries, and secular NGO’s. We scoured through the hours of footage and developed a script for a symbolic drama called, The Journey of a Clown, based on the legacy of Italo’s life and service to these street youth.
In January 2012, we partnered with Freedom Guatemala and At Risk No More to produce the theatrical presentation in Guatemala City’s Teatro Abril, a renowned theatre with over a century of history. We gathered creative professionals to begin mentoring the street youth in weekly rehearsals. The dramatic troupe of street youth and creative professionals called themselves “Voz De Las Calles” (Voice of the Streets), and rehearsed together for five months in preparation for the event. We documented the entire process for Italo’s story, Becoming Fools.
After several months in Guatemala capturing the story, we returned home in July 2012 and began editing. The first rough edit was finished in December 2012 and we began to work on the musical score. The film went through several edits before it premiered at the Omaha Film Festival in March 2013 with rave reviews and more irony. A massive blizzard prevented hundreds of people from attending – people who had confirmed they would come and support the film. Becoming Fools could have won the festival … but that would have been a different story, and certainly not aligned with the name or theme of the film …
It has been a long road. There have been many times when we wanted to give up and questioned whether all our effort was worth it. But, this story is not over. We might never know the fullness of it’s fruit. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. We didn’t set out to make a film that would bring us financial wealth. We fell in love with a holy jester and were inspired to join him in Becoming Fools.