Astudillo: A Voice of Hope was one of the most interesting documentaries I’ve made. It was also the most difficult. I’m someone who likes to play it safe when it comes to choosing a project, so it came as a surprise to me that I decided to create a documentary about a priest who takes decommissioned ambulances from Toronto and drives them to El Salvador; a project he calls the Caravan of Hope. I thought to myself, “ this should be amazing and I can visit my family at back home.” But what I didn’t anticipate were the complexities of producing an independent film. For instance, I would still have to to secure travel funds, plan how I would lug around an array of equipment, create a shot list of potential scenes, import footage at the end of the day, charge batteries, organize footage and audio files with specific names etc...
In any case without thinking about it too much, I went to visit the priest whom I never met before, and told him that I was interested in the project and wanted to document the whole journey and write about the charity aspect of the project for my thesis. As I would learn, his name is Hernan Astudillo and is an Ecuadorian refugee. As we discussed and got to know each other, he told me that they were going to leave in a few months and would love for me to do this.
I had little time to prepare so I researched and gathered a plan. Firstly. I secured funds at my university and got approved to take thousands of dollars worth of equipment. Side note- I also didn’t mention to my school that I had no equipment insurance. However, at the time, I didn’t realize how heavy, dangerous and cumbersome it would be. Thereafter, I thought of a potential storyline which would include some aspects of the priest's life and the journey of driving 8 ambulances from Toronto to El Salvador with a few interviews here and there. Easy, right? Wrong.
While on the trip, our ambulances broke down at least 8 times and the we had to pay at least 3 different illegal payments to Mexican officials to cross the Mexican border. Before we got to El Salvador, I’ve gotten sick at least three times with fever, nausea and you guessed it, diarrhea. But even when I was sick I had to capture the most important aspects of the documentary which included the welcoming of the ambulances to government officials.
When I got home, I had no idea how I was going to organize my film. And for months I did not have a story. Sure, I was able to capture the important scenes of the charity project and the ambulances but there was no narrative. Luckily, someone from my documentary Media class advised me to get personal with Father Astudillo and to capture his characteristics so that I could drive the Caravan narrative.
After filming Astudillo and his family for months and getting to know about his hopes and dreams, the story started to change: one being about a charity to one about the successes and dreams of a migrant Ecuadorian priest. In Astudillo: A Voice of Hope, Father Astudillo is able to captivate the audiences with his boldness, curiosities and eccentricities. He is my best documentary subject because he doesn’t fear criticisms and is passionate about his hopes and dreams.
What I learned is that documentary filmmaking is a fast-changing beast, and the story is always evolving until you hit the import button.