Hidden Stories: Libera! takes place in Guatemala, the most populous country in Central America and home to one of the largest indigenous communities. This episode takes us on a journey to explore the mysteries behind the true Guatemalan identity, as seen through three separate perspectives. The complicated issues of land ownership, forestry, and coffee, define much of the nation’s cultural paradoxes and, in a way, drive current political turmoil. As we travel across one of the most bio-diverse ecosystems on the planet, explore the questions sparked in each new conversation, and the answers hidden in an uncertain future.
When you buy a cup of coffee, do you know how much of your purchase goes directly to the coffee producer? How can a strand of Heirloom Cacao reinvigorate an ailing forestry? What can one person accomplish against an industrial giant?
Hidden Stories is an upcoming docu-series defining national identities across the globe. Each episode explores the social, political, and economic climate of a specific country through the unheard tales of its people.
Understand the world through a new perspective- see firsthand the issues that affect the lives of those abroad. In the end these struggles are not just theirs- they are yours as well, they are ours.
Behind the Scenes
Greetings from Antigua, Guatemala! Firstly, we would like to thank you again for your support in the pre-production phase of our film. Without you we would not have the incredible opportunity to tell this story.
Currently we are based in Antigua and have spent the last week interviewing farmers, academics, and activists here and throughout the vast area surrounding Lake Atitlan. The country has a profound beauty- cities surrounded by active volcanoes (one of which erupted a few days ago dropping a layer of ash upon us), a lake filled with ancient sunken towns, and a people surging with an infectious energy and creativity.
Being here has shown us a sequence of veils behind each place we encounter. The densely green fields of the pacific slope are not natural forests. Industrial agriculture has decimated the endemic jungle and replaced it with sprawling sugar cane plantations, rubber tree farms, infinite coffee plots, and palm used to harvest valuable palm oil. What little forest is left has been turned to “Preservation Islands”- small vestiges of woodlands populated by a myriad of endangered and vulnerable species. We have been focusing our attention on the roots of this deforestation and the tactics used to slow the depletion of a precious natural resource.
Our experience has been eye-opening to say the least. The hope now is to continue acquiring content that can improve awareness about the danger these diverse ecosystems are in, and also illustrate the innovative techniques used by Guatemalans to preserve their legacy and build a sustainable future.
Thank you so much for helping bring us this far- we vow to tell this story fully and are incredibly excited for the long road ahead. Please feel free to email with any questions, and take a moment to watch a brief message from Philip Wilson below. Your help has provided 14 EcoFiltros to rural Guatemalan Schools, supplying potable water to 420 children for 2 years. Bravo!
Greetings from Antigua! Life here has been busy- sometimes frantic- but always interesting. We've been lucky enough that UNESCO is reviewing the city for its World Heritage Site status so roads and ruins have been restored and cleaned with great haste. The last three weeks have been intensely busy for our film crew here in Guatemala. Based in this ancient city, we’ve set out each day heading to local farms, colonial era coffee mills, expansive hardwood plantations, and rural schools to acquire interviews.
In the small town of San Andreas Osuna we witnessed children learning the basics of compost and recycling- the common misconception here being that all trash is biodegradable. In ravines, rivers of plastic flow downhill, perforated by small trash-fires lacing the air with toxic smoke. In that same town we saw a hulking coffee mill with capillaries of vine threading between the rusted joints and levers. Ultimately it taught us that no matter how much industry is injected into an ecosystem, nature will inevitably swallow the foreign material back into the earth.
Yesterday, after weeks of coordinating we were finally able to sit down with Aura "Lolita" Chavez, the woman who inspired the making of this film and the sword edge of Guatemala's activist movement. It had been difficult squaring away a time and location as she is constantly shifting from town to town due to her complicated security situation. Her interview was incredibly moving- detailing not only her battle with big agro but the Mayan's spiritual connection with the soil. In their belief system, the earth is not just a tillable surface, but the skin of a living creature.
This weekend we'll be heading to a Coffee Cooperative on the opposite side of the country in order to document the power of small farms aggregated to ensure true fair trade. We truly expect each week to be more enlightening than the last and have not been disappointed yet. Thanks so much for your continued interest have a wonderful weekend!
Greetings from Antigua! It’s a bittersweet morning as this is our last day in Guatemala. After wrapping our final interview last night, it was overwhelming to try and recall every critical moment, every powerful memory from our journey this past month and a half. Firstly, we would like to thank all of you again for your help and participation in making this film a reality. Every day we reflect on how lucky we are to be able to travel this great distance and tell this complex story. We truly appreciate you, and in essence, you’ve been with us for the entirety of the trip.
Following our last update, we left on a lengthy trip from our home-base in Antigua in order to reach shoot locations in remote portions of the country. We travelled first to El Porvenir- a town of 30,000 that doesn’t exist on any map. Stretched out over verdant hillsides, this Coffee Cooperative- over many decades- transformed into a bustling community with its own TV and Radio stations (some of which can be streamed from the United States). We were met by some of the kindest, most fascinating people we’ve ever encountered. Their perspectives were honest and hopeful, yet grounded in a harsh, shifting reality. Bureaucracy plagues their governing system, and looming over their heads the threat of La Roya (Coffee Rust) plagues their invaluable harvest. Production in El Porvenir went from 10,000 bags of coffee in one year to just 700- a frightening prospect when coffee is what binds them together, what feeds their families. That night we slept in a colonial era coffee mill, supposedly haunted by its original owners. Before we fell asleep you could almost hear the gears rotating, the sounds of an ancient machine coming back to life.
After our visit to the Coop, we ventured even further out to the Rio Dulce Area, nearing the Caribbean coast. There we met with Juan Bronson who runs a Hardwood and Cacao Plantation near the town of Fronteras. He demonstrated for us the incredible work involved in creating a thriving Agro-Forest and how the yield can be far more fruitful than just harvestable trees. Bird populations chattered in the canopy above us, small jungle rodents leapt towards the tree-line- it felt like a true eco-system versus the mono-culture farming we’ve run into time after time. However, as always the industrial world found its way to our oasis. Nearby Fronteras, a Russian mining company has been trucking unrefined ore all day and night through the small town and over the bridge towards the nearest large port in Puerto Barrios. The trucks pump exhaust into the small community and storm through the town, one of which crashed into the only Garbage truck, destroying it and paralyzing the driver from the waist down. All night you hear the massive vehicles engine braking down the slope of the bridge, slowly destroying its integrity, the people’s peace, their sleep.
The last few weeks at times feel like a fever dream, perfectly encapsulated by the Mayan Fire Ceremony we experienced two days ago here in Antigua. Enacted by two shamans, we watched as wood, sugar, fire, water, and smoke combined into a swirling inferno of elements. It was as if all that we had witnessed in growth and destruction here in Guatemala was represented in this spiritual process. At the end of the ceremony we asked Tata Pedro to bless our film- he held our hard drive tightly between his hands and whispered an unheard incantation.
The ceremony was not just about receiving blessings, but of giving part of yourself in return. We can only hope this film offers something to the viewer in return for our incredible adventure. The goal now is to tell these stories as a cautionary tale, but also as a template of real solutions to real world problems. In the end these problems are not just Guatemala’s- they are yours as well, they are ours.
Thank you so much for your time and your interest in this project. Please let use know if you have any questions about the process and the next phases of production. We look forward to seeing you all back in the states!
One last thing: We would like to give a special thanks to our amazing team- Roberto, Werner, and Alberto. These guys have been integral to the filmmaking process and we are truly indebted to them for their hard work and passion. Also, another huge thank you to Philip Wilson, Mitchell Denburg, and Christian Escoffie for their consul and their knowledge throughout the last 6 weeks.