School buses re-purposed in Guatemala are often painted and decorated. Photo courtesy of Mark Kendall.
Have you ever wondered what happens to a school bus after its life cycle in the U.S. comes to an end?
Mark Kendall, a New York-based filmmaker, decided to find out.
In his documentary film, "LA CAMIONETA — Life and Death on the Road," Kendall follows a school bus that was sold at an auction held by 422 Sales in New Castle, Pa., on its 3,000-mile journey to Guatemala.
The bus was brought to a junkyard, repainted and resold to an operator in a highland town outside of Guatemala City. There, the school buses are repurposed to provide public transportation to travelers moving between the highlands and the capital city.
"As I was traveling through Central America about two years ago, I rode on the public buses in Guatemala, and immediately recognized them as old school buses," Kendall explained in an interview with SBF. "They were beautiful — they were painted with bright colors, dedicated to patron saints and they had all these beautiful designs. I was really struck by them. And I guess I became curious — how did these get here? Who is bringing them here? Who paints them? What's the story?"
During his project, Kendall documented the constant danger faced by bus drivers in Guatemala. According to Kendall, since 2006, 516 of the country's 4,000 bus drivers have been shot or killed while operating a bus — a trend that is steadily increasing.
Bus drivers in the highlands outside Guatemala City are charged a protection fee by gangs whose territory they are driving through. Drivers who can't pay often pay with their life, according to Mark Kendall. Photo courtesy of Mark Kendall.
"The main issue is that the gangs realized they could extort money [from bus operators]," he said. Bus drivers pay a weekly protection fee to the gangs whose territory they pass through, "and if they can't pay, they end up paying with their life," Kendall explained.
But that isn't the whole story, he said. "[The film] is a portrait of a community that all comes together on this bus to move ahead in life; to move forward."
The bus Kendall followed ended up on one of Guatemala's most dangerous routes. During the film shoot, Kendall spoke with a gang member, local police and the head of an organization to aid the widows of bus drivers.
"There are a lot of characters in this story," he said. "It's about one bus and all the people who make its journey possible: people in the United States, the people who bring it down [to Guatemala], the kids who come together at a junkyard and paint the bus, give it a new life; and the surrounding social context is pretty drastic."
Kendall is raising funds to finish the film on KickStarter.com. He has raised more than $20,000 of his $25,000 goal. The fundraising ends April 18.