Mark Kendall’s La Camioneta: The Journey of One American School Bus shows the journey of a school bus, from being sold at an auction in Pennsylvania to enjoying its new colorful life as public transportation in rural Guatemala.
What’s interesting here is that we get to follow the bus through each of the steps that will bring it closer to its final destination, which allows us to spend time with every actor involved in its reconversion. More importantly, this provides the filmmaker with a mean to showcase some Mexican and Guatemalan customs.
The first person we meet is the seller who tells us that most buses are getting sold after just 8 years, which makes for a surprisingly short lifespan. I was actually expecting he would tell us why they are getting rid of buses that early but he stopped short of telling us.
Once a Guatemalan buyer purchased the bus, it is passed quickly to a driver whose job is to bring it safe to Guatemala; this of course involves driving through Mexico, with everything that implies. The driver tells us right away that this is quite a daunting task as there are no rules once you crossed the border. While the risk that the bus might be stolen is always present, he is more concerned by military and police checkpoints: as we can witness through a hidden camera, extortion by public officers is commonplace and the driver needs to carry enough money to pay off everybody along the way.
Once the bus arrives in Guatemala, it is then purchased by a public transportation company; before hitting the road, it must however be customized, which makes for the most entertaining part of this documentary. Because Guatemalans like their buses to be colorful, we follow the transformation, from sober yellow tones to vivid colors (including flames!!). This also gives us the opportunity to meet the future drivers, which also takes this documentary in a darker direction. Guatemala is indeed notorious for bloody attacks against buses and those men are clearly scared to do their job but have no other choice as they need the money. Bus companies must pay outrageous fees to gangs for their protection and not doing so will result in the drivers – and sometimes even the passengers – to be killed. The movie ends with a joyous ceremony though, the buses getting blessed before starting their new life on Guatemalan roads.
While the story is pretty simple, Mr. Kendall manages to deliver a pretty insightful and straightforward documentary, following a straight narrative line getting effectively from one point the other, without ever losing track or the spectators. The director can certainly be credited for this as most of today’s documentaries fail, whether it’s due to their amateurism, lack of focus or egocentric aspirations. You won’t experience those road bumps here as Mr. Kendall booked you a smooth drive in his Camioneta.
Director: Mark Kendall – Running Time: 1:12 – Year: 2012 – Country: USA, Guatemala
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