October 31, 2008 | Myrna Anderson

Hope of the Quechua filmed by Calvin CAS professor Brian Fuller was shown at the Arpa International Film Festival, held October 24–26, at Grauman’s Egyptian Theater.

When Brian Fuller, a Calvin film professor, and Blake De Young, a Calvin media productions major visited Hollywood last weekend, they walked down Hollywood Boulevard and ate at Mel’s Diner—of American Graffiti fame—and pressed their hands into the celebrity handprints on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

“Blake has exactly the same-sized hands as Jack Lemmon’s,” Fuller observed.

The festival scene

Professor and student also enjoyed a different type of showbiz experience as they screened their documentary, Hope of the Quechua, at the Arpa International Film Festival, held October 24–26, at Grauman’s Egyptian Theater. “It’s surreal,” said Fuller. “It’s just surreal to see people stand in line to buy tickets to your movie.” The festival, sponsored by the Arpa Foundation for Film, Music and Art and named for the Arpa River in Armenia, is a showcase of films from many countries that explore themes of diaspora, exile and multiculturalism.

Chronicle of Quechuan life

Hope of the Quechua, which Fuller produced with De Young and Drew Barrow (a 2007 Calvin grad) chronicles the daily life of the people of Illagua Chico, a Quechuan community living more than 10,000 feet above sea level in the mountains of Ecuador. The film examines the community’s leaders as they grapple with issues of agricultural and business development, social justice, women’s rights and spiritual formation. 

Hope of the Quechua was among the 30 films chosen—from 200 submissions— for screening at the storied venue: “It’s not just any theater. It’s the most famous theater in history,” Fuller said. “Grauman’s Egyptian showed the very first Hollywood premiere in 1922: Robin Hood with Douglas Fairbanks.”

Outside the culture

While he was excited by the historical significance of the theater, Fuller said, he was enthralled by the content of the films: “What’s great is to see …films (from) outside my ethno-cultural happy place.” After three days of screenings, Fuller and De Young attended the gala that closed the festival. “It was everything you’d expect from a Hollywood event,” said Fuller, “limos and movie stars and paparazzi …”

“Red carpet,” De Young chimed in. The highlight of the weekend, he said, was mingling with filmmakers and audience members and getting positive feedback on the film: “At one point the (festival) director came up to me and said, ‘You were the cinematographer on Hope of the Quechua. I thought it was a very touching film, and I got a lot out of it,’” De Young remembered. “He said, ‘It’s easy to make an hour-and-a-half documentary and get all the information across. You had 20 minutes, and you did it.’”

Fledgling filmmaker

Hope of the Quechua was originally created as a fundraising tool for the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, and Fuller, De Young and Barrow filmed the documentary on site in Ecuador in June of 2006. De Young was a sophomore at the time, and he remembers Fuller calling him to say he’d been chosen for the project: “That was crazy because I’d just taken the introductory class,” he recalled.

“Good thing you had a good reel,” Fuller rejoined.

Everyday life at 10, 000 feet

The team captured the footage of the Quechua residents of Illagua Chico farming, spinning wool, developing a crafts industry and making cheese. It also showed the community’s leaders talking about the need for education, the role of women and the struggle with local prejudice.

The crew had some memorable experiences while gathering footage in Illagua Chico: They were charged by a bull; they filmed while dangling in a six-by-four foot basket over 400-ft. deep gorge; and they shot coverage of a witch trial. “We kept looking at ourselves and saying, ‘Did we really do that?’” De Young said.

Filming on the level

The filmmakers made an effort to portray the Quechua community with sensitivity, an effort that included getting down on their knees to film the residents of Illagua Chico on their own level. “To watch these students get literally, physically on their knees for the Quechua—that has a metaphorical, prayer dimension, but it also has a, ‘How do I see these people as Jesus sees them?’ dimension to it.” Fuller said.

Hope of the Quechua has earned several honors since its creation. In June 2008, the documentary won two bronze Telly Awards (which recognize non-theatrical films) in the “fundraising” and “charitable non profit” categories. The film was also screened in June at the University Film and Video Conference in Colorado Springs.

Re-editing in HD

Fuller is currently giving the documentary a high-definition makeover to allow it to be shown in national venues. “We are re-editing, re-titling, re-color-correcting, re-Spanish language-ing,” he said. He’s been pleased at the reception the film has been given wherever it’s been shown: “When audiences get involved for 15 minutes with someone who's not like them, I think we win. I think it’s a kingdom victory when we have compassion for people who aren't like us.”

The benefits of collaboration

Fuller is also grateful for the lasting relationships he developed with the student filmmakers through their collaboration on the project; it’s a teaching model that has served him well. “If there’s ever a class where we need to be a learning community, it’s video production. And I wouldn’t teach anything else because of it,” he said.

Blake De Young at the Egyptian

De Young and Fuller at the festival

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