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Painting a better future

WL native will show his film documenting a community mural project in Honduras today


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: BEN METCALF - The community mural had an environmental theme, stressing the importance of protecting the community and natural resources. At the beginning of weekend film days, back in the fall of 2012, Ben Metcalf and a small crew were forced to pass through a guarded entrance into Villa El Porvenir, a village in Honduras.

The street gang that controlled Villa El Porvenir allowed only one vehicle into the village at a time. If you weren’t on the pre-approved list for entry, there would be problems.

It was one of many aspects of small town Honduran life that Metcalf, a West Linn native, had to grow accustomed to over time as he produced his first documentary film, “Changes by Brushstrokes.” The movie follows the month-long youth art project to paint a community mural in Villa El Porvenir, led by Honduran artist Jose Carlos Alonzo and funded by the Spanish NGO Cesal.

The project, as Metcalf explained, was a mechanism to “beautify space” in Villa El Porvenir while also engaging at-risk youth and helping empower creativity. “Changes by Brushstrokes,” which will be shown for free at the West Linn Lutheran Church today, aimed to document the youth outreach effort in real time.

“It was a pretty challenging project, because of filming where we were filming,” Metcalf said. “But it was fun.”

Metcalf worked on the film while he was stationed in Honduras as a naval reserve officer. He was joined by Videographer Elizabeth Herzfeldt-Kamprath and Assistant Producer Meghan Haslam, and the three filmed on weekends when Metcalf was off-duty.

“I’ve always had a passion for filmmaking and storytelling,” Metcalf said. “A friend of mine knew the artist (Alonzo), and we collaborated.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: BEN METCALF - West Linn native Ben Metcalf spent a month filming a community art project in Honduras, eventually turning the footage into a 40 minute documentary.

For full access to the village, Metcalf had to negotiate permission from the street gang, but he said the biggest challenge was simply building relationships with community members.

“Probably the most challenging part was getting youth to open up and really show their stories — trust-building,” Metcalf said. “It’s very unusual for a group of affluent people to show up in their impoverished, crime-ridden neighborhood and say, ‘We want to tell your story.’ It’s not natural for adults to take interest in them.”

With persistence, Metcalf eventually ended up with scores of “amazing” and “personal” stories. Serving as the backbone of it all was the mural, which took on an environmental theme.

“Trees and mountains and rivers — the theme was chosen by the group of kids,” Metcalf said. “And it was that we had to take care of the environment.”

To some extent, Metcalf viewed the theme as an analogy for taking better care of Villa El Porvenir as well.

“It’s not something you expect to hear so much in a poor, small community in Honduras,” Metcalf said. “I was amazed by the insights and wisdom the young people had about the environment and the importance of taking care of it.”

After about a month of filming, it was another eight months before the film was finally finished in May 2013. Fittingly, “Changes by Brushstrokes” premiered in Villa El Porvenir, where Metcalf was pleasantly surprised to see some of the street gang members in the audience.

“I didn’t realize who they were until they were pointed out,” Metcalf said. “But that was fulfilling.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: BEN METCALF - Honduran artist Jose Carlos Alonzo led the community in painting the mural.

Beyond Thursday’s showing at the West Linn Lutheran Church, the film has also been accepted at the New Hope Film Festival in Pennsylvania, which will take place in July.

Metcalf, for his part, is working to obtain his MBA at University of California, San Diego. He’s not sure what the future holds, but filmmaking will always be involved one way or another.

“I don’t know if it will be something that pays the bills - my goal isn’t to make it a livelihood,” Metcalf said. “But there is a huge sense of satisfaction to tell someone’s story ... I have a couple of other ideas batting around that I’m talking with friends about.

“One way or another, I’ll be involved in art and filmmaking for the rest of my life.”

The showing at West Linn Lutheran Church runs from 7 to 8:30 p.m. today. Entry is free, and refreshments will be provided. A question and answer session will follow the film.

For more information, visit cambiosthefilm.com.


By Patrick Malee
Reporter
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