Documenting Life in Ecuador

UT Travel Course Heads to South America

Published: Jul 30, 2014
Christopher Boulton, assistant professor of communication, said, “I wanted my students to learn that it’s not just about making a documentary in a more scenic location.” Photo by Robin Canfield of Actuality Media
Christopher Boulton, assistant professor of communication, said, “I wanted my students to learn that it’s not just about making a documentary in a more scenic location.” Photo by Robin Canfield of Actuality Media

VIDEO: Preview the Documentaries

Lisa Aquilino ’15 wanted to study abroad before she graduated next spring. So when she heard about a UT travel course to study documentary filmmaking in Ecuador, she enrolled.

“It is my dream to be a video editor, and on this trip, that is exactly what I got to do,” said Aquilino, a film and media arts major from Virginia Beach, VA. “It was such an amazing experience to sit down after getting all of the footage from the cinematographer and start cutting my group's story together with the director.”

The travel course focused on social justice communication, touching on the ethics of representing people of other cultures and involving them in the process, as well as how to get the public to care about social issues and moving an audience to relate to the subjects in the film.

The class will premiere its documentaries, This is My Place and Cada Mano, at a Sept. 30 Honors Symposium at 4 p.m. in Reeves Theater.

Before coming to UT, Christopher Boulton, assistant professor of communication, spent time in Ecuador teaching college students a more bureaucratic process of filmmaking than the more spontaneous method they were employing previously. In the process he realized there were many reasons for the need for flexibility, including the very frequent union strikes that would foil any of the best laid plans. The experience was one he wanted to share with his UT students once he got to Tampa.

“I wanted my students to learn that it’s not just about making a documentary in a more scenic location,” he said of filming on foreign sets. “You have to question our own ways of doing things and learn from the local filmmakers and peer collaborators.”

The course was open to students from all majors, not just film. Some took Assistant Professor Andrew DeMil’s Spanish class in tandem and helped out with translation in country and in creating subtitles for the documentaries.

“Good documentaries are made up of a mixed group — you need people with artistic vision, people who have business sense, those with technical equipment skills and people who know policy,” he said.

Santannah Manning ’15, a biology major with minors in marine biology and Spanish, enrolled in Boulton’s course to work on her language skills.

“I think my Spanish improved dramatically from being immersed in the culture, which is a great accomplishment for me,” Manning said. “Professionally, I think that speaking another language makes any applicant more competitive and employable in any field.”

The students enrolled in the spring semester course chose the themes of the trip —environment and community development. The nine students were split into two groups to produce two documentaries, one for each theme. They also kept a blog of the trip, detailing their adventures. 

The environment group worked with Fundación Cordillera Tropical, an organization working on the conservation of Ecuador’s biological diversity and water resources while preserving the indigenous way of life. The other group worked with TECHO, an organization working to eliminate poverty and drive community development through social action in Ecuador.

Boulton lead the travel course through Actuality Media, a company he came across at a social change documentary conference he attended in Washington, D.C. The month-long trip was longer than usual for UT travel courses, which tend to average about two weeks.

“I wanted my students to get immersed, in the culture and in getting to know the people, the subjects of their documentaries,” he said. “I wanted a sense of immersion and comfort because our students would be telling their stories.”

Kiera Andrews ’14, an advertising and public relations major with a minor in government and world affairs, said one of her most memorable moments was talking with the folks in the outlying villages, getting their interviews and living out the meaning of hands-on experience.

“We had really long days, but seeing everything we had planned for finally start coming together was amazing,” Andrews said.

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