La Camioneta (Review)

LA CAMIONETA: The Journey of One American School Bus
DIR: Mark Kendall
(Follow Your Nose Films)

Some part of you wants La Camioneta to be a puff piece—a light-as-air documentary about guys refurbishing old school buses in Guatemala.

The premise sounds like “Pimp My Ride” in Central America, and it would be if the guys involved weren’t so damn enlightened. They have to be; it’s a sink or swim mentality where they live. When we meet the bus the film will watch transcend to something more joyous, we’re in the Midwest, where a Guatemalan man will drive it through Mexico to its next life.

In Mexico, the temperature is different and the shadow of corrupt officials falls on even petty crime. We have cause to worry for our driver, who waits out the cocky customs officer who negotiates the bus’ inspection like a game he can’t lose. In contrast, Guatemala feels like deliverance, but that feeling will grow more complicated. The man who buys the bus takes it to his station for fixing and refurbishment. He sees in it a quality of spirit, “it is a migrant, too,” he says.

Though Mark Kendall’s documentary only alludes to the condition of “public” transportation in Guatemala, he gives us a clear feeling for the imminent danger of the job: extortion is common, as is violence. Kendall cuts from the scene of a crime, where a driver is pulled from his bus, while the women who run the orphanages that may house his children face government officials.

These men work for their families, work for their God and work for their lives, and this hunger and determination to not just survive but live fully, finds a voice in their work. The Camioneta (the bus) is every bit as much a shining, exuberant road warrior as the men who built it. Sure, hope is a thing with wings and so is this Camioneta.



Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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