by Jim Ridley
One of the surprise favorites at last year's Nashville Film Festival was Mark Kendall's La Camioneta: The Journey of One American School Bus, a real-life picaresque exploring an unusual phenomenon: the purchase and delivery of retired American school buses for repurpose (and repainting) as public transportation in Guatemala. That's not exactly a gotcha premise, as Variety reviewer Andrew Barker acknowledged — but along with NaFF audiences, he found the movie an unexpected delight.
"Happily, first impressions couldn't be more wrong here, as the film wrings an almost bizarre amount of political, humanistic and spiritual substance out of this limited frame," Barker wrote last fall. "Kendall's eye for untold stories, as well as his instinct for catching evocatively framed images on the fly, mark him as a name to watch."
Without narration, Kendall traces the tortuous route of one bus from its handover in Pennsylvania through Mexico to its ultimate destination in Guatemala. There, its would-be driver hopes his vehicle will be his ticket out of farm labor — even if it means risking thugs who rob and even kill bus drivers on their rounds. Much of the movie is devoted to the people who encounter the bus along the way, including the local craftsmen who handpaint the boldly decorated vehicles.
Kendall, a former student of anthropology and Latin American studies at Vanderbilt, will appear at 7:30 p.m. tonight in VU's Sarratt Cinema for a free screening of the film, presented as part of the university's "International Lens" series. Click here for more information, including details about where to park.