Toronto-based filmmakers Monica Gutierrez and Galen Brown discuss 3004 Studios, their community-engaged practice, and their current documentary film project about community organizing and self-determination in Placencia, Belize.
How did you come to be involved in community-engaged media production?
Monica Gutierrez: During my formal arts training, we weren’t really exposed to how artists can be an asset to the communities. There’s an emphasis on aiming for genius and working in solitude. As I became interested in film, I became more aware that arts can be used to benefit a community. As a newer medium, video comes with less hang-ups than more traditional media like painting, lithography, or even film. It’s more accessible and there’s a lot more freedom for it to be used in different contexts.
Galen Brown: I met Monica in Guatemala. We were both working as ArtCorps artists, collaborating with NGOs in Central America. That was really the beginnings of community work for me. I worked on 3 documentaries for ArtCorps and fell in love with that kind of work.
I actually started out as a photojournalist; I was always drawn to political and economic issues. I’m trained in economics and I’ve got a certificate in digital videography form Concordia. I’m really fueled by a passion to document moments in history for future generations. A lot can be captured in still images – even more can be captured in video.
MG: I’m interested in video and film as an alternate form of storytelling. I want to be a facilitator for those who don’t have immediate access to media tools and the knowledge to use them. To help communities to create their own media, where they benefit.
GB: We started 3004 Studios after our time in Central America. It’s a boutique media production studio. We’re really interested in longer term partnerships over one-time clients. We’re very community oriented – we want to bring high-quality video production to those who have minimal budgets. Video is such a great way to communicate.
How did you start working in Placencia?
GB: We both visited Placencia separately, while we were in Central America.
MG: It’s a beautiful place that supports more low-key tourism like backbacking; there aren’t a lot of hotels.
GB: The hotels that are there are smaller scale and independently owned by locals. At that time, a local community group, Peninsula Citizens for Sustainable Development, was involved in this fight to stop cruise ships from coming in to the area. When we talked with them, they told us a strip of mangrove swamp between the peninsula and the mainland where unregulated development is taking place. They are dredging coral reef and using it to make concrete.
What is your goal for this project?
MG: We want to inspire people around the world, to show that you can remain in control of what’s happening around you.
GB: The film is unscripted, there’s no narration. We’ll follow community members through their daily life. We plan to be low-key, and unobtrusive in terms of equipment. We won’t be filming anyone who doesn’t want to be filmed. This is about community in every way. We don’t want to just focus on statistics and problem after problem. Overall, it’s about how the community is coming together and fighting outside influences.
MG: We want to spread the message as far and wide as possible. More awareness means more potential allies, which means support for the community in terms of longer-term sustainability.
How does this relate to Toronto?
GB: These beautiful places exist, but at the end of the day it’s someone’s home. They thrive off of tourism here, but to continue in this way means preserving for the future. There’s a parallel to the mega-quarry project here in Ontario. There’s money to be made with a quarry. It’s a project that affects ecology, the environment, and people’s lives, yet the real beneficiaries don’t live here. If you don’t live there, don’t dig there. It’s about ownership and responsibility, and respect of other people’s homes. The community in Placencia is really getting things done – they are an inspiration.
Lots of people in Canada go to Belize to vacation. There’s a connection. Every decision here does affect what happens there and which interests are awakened. Even if you don’t think you have an influence, you definitely do. That’s part of the reason our fundraising is community-based.
How does community-based fundraising work for this project?
GB: We have a Kickstarter Campaign. Everyone involved in the campaign is now part of a community allied with Placencia. There’s a sense of growing links, a heightened sense of community. We’re 80% of the way to our fundraising goal, and we have a week left!
To learn more and support the Placencia documentary project, visit the Kickstarter website at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2031845333/amunegu-in-times-to-come
Monica Gutierrez: firstname.lastname@example.org or 416.788.1767
Galen Brown: email@example.com or 416.878.4258
Placencia Citizens for Sustainable Development: http://sites.google.com/site/pcsdbelize/
In Times to Come on Kickstarter: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2031845333/amunegu-in-times-to-come