14. September 2015 · Comments Off on Five Questions With Jennifer Robbins, Director of “Chajil Ch’upup” · Categories: Documentaries, Five Questions with..., Ottawa, Short Films · Tags: , , , , , , ,
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Jennifer Robbins

Photo of Jennifer Robbins by Robin Canfield

“I think there is something really powerful about caring about something so much that you would do anything to keep it alive. Meeting the members of Chajil Ch’upup, it really makes you wonder about your own life. Is there something you would get up every morning at the crack of dawn to fight for?”, filmmaker Jennifer Robbins tells Ottawa Indie Fest during a recent interview about her documentary Chajil Ch’upup which screens at the One  World Film Festival on Saturday September 26. 2015.

The film Chajil Ch’upup (Guardians of the Tule) explores the world of Juan, an Tz’utujil Mayan whose family has fished Lake Atitlan (Guatemala) for generations. His generation especially, however, has been subject to major trials created by nature, and also by man. The members of the local fishing cooperative – Chajil Ch’upup – have banded together to work towards a solution and a better life.

How did you get involved in the making of your film?
I was finishing my final year of Humber College where I was studying Film and Television Production and one of my teachers introduced an opportunity to complete the internship by traveling abroad to work on a documentary project. I remember being so excited and running home to research Actuality Media and Guatemala. I immediately knew that I wanted to be a part of the project, I applied to be director and a few weeks later after an interview process, I got in.

I have always been very passionate about indigenous rights and environmental issues, I also love exploring new areas and putting myself into unknown environments. The first documentary I directed ‘Chemical Valley’ was about my hometown of Sarnia Ontario and the indigenous people who face the consequences of living beside chemical plants and so in many ways I felt like I could connect to this story.

When I learned about Chajil Ch’upup, the passion they have towards the lake and seeing how hard they work to keep it healthy, I continue to be amazed even just thinking about it. Lake Atitlan symbolizes identity, family, culture, and home for Chajil Ch’upup and for many of the Guatemalan people. To see your home changing before your eyes, being destroyed, getting sick – that is something many people can connect with. It is a story to be told.

Can you briefly tell us about the “Chajil Ch’upup” (Guardians of the Tule) people and why they are plant the tule plant in the lake?
Chajil Ch’upup is an organization of fisherman that live in San Juan, a small village along Lake Atitlan. For many generations being a fisherman was passed down as a promising lifestyle and career, now these men face the reality that their children can’t depend on being a fisherman. With less fish then ever before being caught, many of these men are forced to work in the coffee fields in order to put food on the table for their families.

There are many reasons why there are less fish – pollution due to fertilizer, garbage, lack of sewer systems, boating, mass fishing, all of these combined have made the Lake in some areas unsafe to swim.

Chajil Ch'upup_ProductionStill

Chajil Ch’upup fisherman. Photo by Robin Canfield

The ‘Tule’ plant, which is similar to algae in North America, filters the lake and also adds nutrients back into the water. The fisherman bring in fully grown tule plants from other villages, tie a large rock around the roots, swim out to the lake and plant them under water with hopes that they will take root. This is costly, time consuming, and dangerous. Unfortunately a lot of the time the tule plants don’t take root, and it becomes very frustrating for Chajil Ch’upup. Somehow, they have managed to not lose hope and continue to plant tule before the rainy season every year.

What were some of the challenges you faced in the making your film?
Easily the biggest challenge: I am not fluent in Spanish. This was quite a challenge as it is so important for the director to connect with the individuals being interviewed and it is also necessary for doing research, especially in a small community library! However I was lucky enough to have excellent translators that very soon became dear friends still to this day. I realized that I would need to communicate and work with the translators so that they understood the questions I had prepared and knew the directions I would want to take the story during an interview. The challenges were what made it all very exciting as they keep you on your toes.

Chajil Ch'upup

Chajil Ch’upup fisherman. Photo by Robin Canfield

I understand that the entire film was made in 30 days! Can you tell us about this?
The entire film was made in 30 days, which seems insane now thinking back. Week 1 was research, exploring the community, meeting the members of Chajil Ch’upup. Week 2 was writing, developing story lines, unscripted interviews, more research. Week 3 was filming and fisherman get up very very early, even earlier than filmmakers! Week 4 – editing, translating interviews, and more editing. Throughout the entire month there was still time for watching documentaries, having crew meetings, and exploring the near by villages. It was a lot of fun!

Is there anything else that you would like to share with us about your film?
I think there is something really powerful about caring about something so much that you would do anything to keep it alive. Meeting the members of Chajil Ch’upup, it really makes you wonder about your own life. Is there something you would get up every morning at the crack of dawn to fight for? Is there something you are passionate about that you would risk everything for because it means that much? I think if you have that in your life – that is a beautiful thing, even if it is hard to see it suffer. This experience changed my life. Who knows, maybe I will return to Lake Atitlan to do a feature length film.

Crew & Chajil Ch'upup

Chajil Ch’upup production crew. Photo by Robin Canfield

Jennifer Robbins is a creative director who is passionate about documentary film making and education technology. She has directed two award winning documentaries that have both aired on national television ‘Chemical Valley’ and ‘Chajil Ch’upup.’ Jennifer received 2nd place at the Polytechnics of Canada student showcase for ‘3rd Degree’ an educational crime she wrote and directed. She is currently a project manager for an Online Learning Management company and planning for her next documentary project.

Chajil Ch’upup is one of four Canadian Short Documentaries screening at the National Gallery of Canada on Saturday September 26, 2015 from 12.30pm to 2:30pm followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers.

The four films are curated by Ottawa Indie Fest in association with Ottawa World Film Festival. They are presented as part of the One World Festival’s “Our Home on Native Land” program which explores the themes of journeys, the sacred, and conservation and reinforce the need for governments to respect and honour the needs indigenous communities and preserve something lasting for future generations.

© 2015 Ottawa Independent Film Festival


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