29. May 2017 · Comments Off on Five Questions With Tim Alberts, Co-director of “Sisyphus Rides” · Categories: Documentaries, Five Questions with... · Tags: , , , , , , ,

Sisyphus Rides tells the story of Vince Vetro, founder of The Lending Journey a micro-finance organization which provides micro loans to underprivileged Nicaraguan women. In an effort to raise awareness of the plight of the poor in Central America, Vince and a group of rural Nicaraguan women cycle across Nicaragua. What follows is the slow unravelling of his organization, and a soulful examination of what constitutes real success and failure in international development.

Tim's Photo for 5QW

Tim Alberts

The film’s title and central metaphor is based on Sisyphus a character in Greek Mythology who has a great passion for life but angers the gods by putting Death in chains. His punishment is fitting. Sisyphus isn’t sentenced to death. Instead, each day, he must roll a boulder up a mountain only to have it fall back down each night.

For some, Sisyphus‘ fate may seem hopeless, but for Vince Vetro – life’s meaning is found in struggle itself. What drives Vince to fight the odds so clearly stacked against the poor in Central America? The film examines Vince’s decision to exchange “the good life” in Canadian business for the constant challenge of third world micro finance.

Intrigued and wanting to learn more about the film, which has its Ottawa premiere Saturday June 3, 2017 at 5:00pm, Ottawa Indie Fest spoke to Tim Alberts, the film’s co-director.

How did you got get involved in making a documentary on this subject?
The project began with a chance encounter with Vince Vetro at a music festival in Guelph Ont. Vince is the founder of an independent micro finance NGO called The Lending Journey. I had known him years earlier but we’d lost touch. He told me about what he’d been doing over the past 12 years in Nicaragua and Ecuador, arranging micro loans for women in remote areas to start small businesses. He also talked about his plans for a fundraising cycling excursion across Nicaragua, from Costa Rica to Honduras, a climb of about 7000 feet. This became the first of several meetings over the course of the summer.

Lisa

Lisa Lightbourn-Lay

Lisa Lightbourn Lay (co-director) and I admired the work of The Lending Journey and were drawn to Vince’s story, but we wanted to make sure that any potential film project would yield a documentary film and not just a promotional video for the organization. It was during one of these meetings that I turned to Lisa and said, “You know what this is. This is the myth of Sisyphus; a story about persistence in the face of unending struggle.” Lisa came of up with the title, Sisyphus Rides and that became the central metaphor for the film. We didn’t want to make a film in defence of micro finance or any other methodology in international development. We wanted to explore Vince’s determination to pursue his goal long after it seemed logical to do so. This is the untold part of the Sisyphus story. What are the good things that happen while pursuing what turns out to be an unattainable goal?

 

Were the film’s themes of the complexities of third world micro financing and the redefinition of failure part of the original plan or did this come together during story editing and post-production?
The “redefinition of failure” part was definitely not in the original plan. I was several months into editing when I got a phone call from Vince saying that he’d decided, after much soul searching, to close the Nicaraguan branch of The Lending Journey. He’d come to the painful decision that as long as he continued to be involved, the organization would never become self-sustaining. I wrestled with what to do with this news but soon realized that the financial failure of the organization needed to be part of the story.

It meant rethinking the structure of the film. I decided to start with the shutdown of the NGO, then jump back in time to the cycling trip, and then work our way back to the starting point of the film. Along the way, we’d meet the women in Nicaragua and realize that, while The Lending Journey ultimately fails, it’s also a part of some amazing success stories. The difficulty for Vince is that his successes happen in areas that are hard to measure, especially for a North American board of directors and its investors. Thus the film’s attempt to help to redefine success.

Sisyphus Rides

Vince Vetro cycling across Nicaragua

Was Vince always the Sisyphus character along and how did the opening animation illustrating the Sisyphus character come about?
Vince was always the Sisyphus character but the way that we interpreted that changed with the unexpected shutdown of his Nicaraguan office. I should add that while Vince is the Sisyphus character, we didn’t want to portray him as the modern white hero who swoops in to save the day in poor Nicaragua. The women in the film really share the role of hero along with Vince. They are the ones who, with a little help, manage to turn their lives around in amazing ways.

Lisa and I realized early on that if we were going to use the Sisyphus metaphor, we’d need to somehow make sure that people knew the story. Animation seemed like the obvious approach. I met Matt Greenwood through a complicated pathway of friends. He’s an extremely talented and experienced animator and our budget was limited, (to say the least), but Matt kindly agreed to produce the animated sections of the film for what I’m sure was less than his usual fee.

What were some of the challenges in producing the film?
Funding for the film was the endless uphill struggle of Sisyphus. There were times when it looked like we might not get it done. We started with a small crowdfunding campaign to raise the initial money needed just to get down to Nicaragua to shoot the cycling trip. When we got back we applied to a few organizations for post production funding, got nothing and eventually raised enough from a few corporate sponsors to pay for the animation. The rest was self-funded.

As for filming in Nicaragua, (or at least the parts we experienced), it is a very noisy place. It makes finding interview locations very challenging. There were always any number of dogs barking, radios blasting, kids playing, motorcycles/cars/trucks roaring by. The noise is also part of what defines the character of the place, though, and once we decided to embrace it, things got easier. The bigger challenges happened in post. Sound design and music really had to work around the noisiness of the film. In the end, it’s one of the things that makes it feel raw and real to me.

Also, Lisa and I spent a lot of time shooting from the back of a pickup truck and hanging out of open passenger side doors. But that was just fun.

Vince mid

Vince Vetro

Can you tell us of any special moments or highlights that you had during filming?
I’ll give a personal answer here. There were so many moments that have stuck with me more than I would have expected. One happened during our return trip to Nicaragua. One night Vince and I went for a meal at the home of Elliet, one of the Lending Journey workers. They live in a poor area of Managua. There was a single light bulb hanging from a tin ceiling. We sat around a makeshift table and shared a meal of chicken and Gallopinto, a Nicaraguan staple of rice and beans prepared in various ways across the country. Elliet’s mother was quite elderly but full of spirit and pride. We couldn’t communicate much but we had an amazing time of communing anyway.

It was a first-hand encounter with something that Vince talks about a lot; that the experience of sharing a meal with folks does more to instill pride and dignity than all of the money The Lending Journey has lent over the years. It’s great to “teach a man to fish”, but it’s when you sit on the dirt floor and eat it together that you build real relationships with people who might otherwise feel invisible to the rest of the world. That moment, for me, captured what Vince’s real vision is about.

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Tim Alberts’ formal training is in music composition. He has composed and produced music for various feature films, radio and television productions, as well as numerous documentary and short films. Along with his work in film and television, Tim has produced albums for various independent bands and songwriters.

He is currently working on a film about his mother who during WWII was a teenager living in Utrecht, Holland where she worked at Kindjeshaven, a registered daycare centre which had been set up as a front for the Dutch Underground. Among the Dutch kids in the daycare, were several Jewish children whose parents had been taken by the Nazis. The story deals with her reuniting with one of the kids she worked with and knew well during the war, but hadn’t seen or heard from in seventy years.

Lisa Lightbourn-Lay is an award winning documentary producer, editor, DOP with over 20 years experience in live television, cross-platform and documentary production. As an independent documentary filmmaker he passion lies in telling stories that effect social change and give focus to issues and people set to make a difference.

For more information about the film check out the film’s website.

Sisyphus Rides screens on Saturday June 3, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. along the short films The Talk and Poison in the Water at Ottawa Indie Fest.

The screening of Sisyphus Rides is sponsored by the One World Film Festival

 

 

 

 

 

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