A Q&A with Kamloops filmmaker Jess Rothenburger

With everything going on in the world these days, we’re looking forward to giving back at the Reel Causes AGM with Global Solidarity Group. Learn about what Reel Causes and our community partners have accomplished over the past year and what our plans are for 2017. Following the AGM we will watch the film Gringos in the Garbage (a documentary about how a community in Nicaragua survives from others’ waste) and have a post-film discussion with the Kamloops filmmaker, and see first-hand how he helped create change through the power of film. The post-film discussion will be moderated by Tracy Friesen, Nation Film Board alum and author of the book Story Money Impact: Funding Media for Social Change. Proceeds from the screening will go to Global Solidarity Group, the non-profit organization which was formed as a vehicle to direct money to the community featured in the film.

We interviewed the filmmaker Jess Rothenburger about the film and the non-profit organization he started; and in the days leading up to the Feb. 26th event, shared his answers on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #ReelCausesGlobalSolidarity. Here is the entire Q&A.

Amongst all the places that you have been doing development work, what stood out for you with El Limonal?
Situated in the so-called “circle of death” between a leaky sewage plant, a cemetery and a garbage dump, there are few places I have ever seen that are so starkly “poor.” Yet, where one may expect to find a bunch of hapless victims of poverty, in El Limonal, one finds an extremely hard working, entrepreneurial and proud community.

gringosJessWhy did you decide to make a film about the people that live in El Limonal?
Having visited there many times in my capacity as a volunteer, I felt that I wanted to learn more about the community rather than just always scratching the surface. Warren felt the same way after volunteering in the community. The only way we could think of to be able to actually stay in the community was to make a documentary. Of course our intention was to raise awareness for the community, but the documentary was as much the result of our own selfish desire to get to know the community and to fulfil our own curiosity. How could these people survive in a garbage dump?

pickersHow did you make the film happen?
We made little videos asking for support on social media, and made countless phone calls and emails to our friends; we leveraged all the social capital we had and ultimately raised $8,000 from almost 200 people. And, it wasn’t until after we had actually filmed that we realized we had no idea what we were doing. As luck would have it, we got connected organically through a mutual contact to Ed Mochrie, a video editor and producer from Guelph, Ontario. Not only was he instrumental in actually piecing the movie together, but he was willing to do it for free! (To this day Warren and Jess have never met Ed in person.)

Why did you decide to form Global Solidarity Group?
Global Solidarity Group was formed in response to the interest and goodwill people were developing for El Limonal as a consequence of having seen the movie. People wanted to support El Limonal and so Global Solidarity Group was formed to help make this happen.

It is an impressive feat to start a non-profit. Tell us about how you went about making this happen and what compelled you to take this step?
We were compelled to start a non-profit to give people the peace of mind in knowing that their donations were going through a registered organization; the surprising amount of money and goodwill demanded the legitimacy and formality of a structured organization.

What have you achieved with Global Solidarity Group so far?
Thus far we have managed to raise enough money to sponsor over 50 families in El Limonal to benefit from a government program to get a house! (Families were required to have a $300 US deposit, which was virtually impossible for many.) Further, we have facilitated private donations, funded a small micro-credit loan program, sponsored English classes for children and provided many food package donations directly to the community.

What are you planning to do as an organization next?
Global Solidarity Group is in its infancy. This year the members of the GSG will take the time to better define what to do next. While exploring its next steps, it will continue to support the community of El Limonal.

What have you done with the film so far and what are your next steps with it?
We premiered the film at El Limonal in November 2015, and also have shown the movie on the big screen in Edmonton, Kamloops and London. We have done many, many fundraisers and shown the movie privately to small groups. We have released the movie independently on Vimeo. Our next step is to keep showing it to as many people who are interested in watching.

ladiesWhy are you excited to screen Gringos in the Garbage with Reel Causes in Vancouver?
Any opportunity to show our movie excites us! We are always humbled to have people watch something we spent years making. The opportunity to connect with more people in a large centre like Vancouver is much appreciated. Further, the opportunity to show our movie to a group of people who we know, through their affiliation with Reel Causes, are interested in social causes is particularly meaningful.

What film are you interested in making next?
We are currently in the process of planning our next shoot in Rwanda and/or Peru. However, rather than doing a full feature we are exploring the possibility of creating an online series of travel webisodes called ‘Gringos Around the Globe’, essentially using a similar format as we did with Gringos in the Garbage (i.e. integrating, living and working with people in communities in the developing world, and capturing their stories and our experience.)