According to the CIA World Factbook, people who live in the Central American country of Honduras will make 90.91 percent less money than if they lived in the U.S. They are three times more likely to die in infancy (CIA World Factbook) and 22.2 percent times more likely to be murdered (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime).
“There’s a common phrase people say that we don’t give them a fish, we teach them to fish, and I think that’s a misunderstanding,” said Brandon Jackson, the 25-year-old producer of the seventh annual Chagrin Documentary Film Festival selection, “This is Honduras.”
“It’s not that people don’t know how to fish. It’s that they can’t afford the rod,” Mr. Jackson, the son of Rick and Brenda Jackson, said in a phone interview.
In 2009, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was exiled to the Dominican Republican after coup d’état, the first in Central America in more than 25 years. In a year in a half, Honduras became the murder capital of the world, with 19 violent deaths every day in the city of San Pedro Sula alone.
In “This is Honduras,” Mr. Jackson and director Taylor Purdee provide a profile of the country, told by the people dedicated to a place that the rest of the world has forsaken. Through exclusive interviews with NGOs, reporters, aid workers and politicians, including former President Zelaya, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Purdee sought to create a film about Honduras, and for Hondurans, that discusses the country and its issues.
Mr. Jackson, a University Heights native and 2010 graduate of University School, was first introduced to Honduras as an eighth-grader during a school presentation by the Cleveland organization, Hope for Honduran Children.
After the presentation, Mr. Jackson, the co-chairman of a fundraising committee approached the organization’s founder, Karen Godt, and asked how he could help. Mr. Jackson and the committee raised $1,000 through a book drive to give to the organization, but for Mr. Jackson, a check wasn’t enough.
Hearing that Laurel School was running a pilot program with the organization and sending students to Honduras, Mr. Jackson asked his school to do the same.
Soon, Mr. Jackson was at a small village, Flor Azul, just south of the capital, Tegucigalpa. He had just recently been on his first international trip to Australia, but the two countries were wildly different.
“Australia was pampering and fun. Honduras was very eye opening,” Mr. Jackson said. “I was starting to understand the rest of the world and getting out of my own bubble. It was really cool to dive into a diverse culture that was different than mine and experiencing things I never had before. There certainly was a pull to come back. I thought I’d just go and see what it’s like, kind of be touristy, but by the end of the trip I knew I wanted to find a way to come back more than one time.”
Mr. Jackson would return to Honduras annually six more times. He took his seventh trip as a 19-year-old freshman at Fordham University in New York City, where he was studying acting with a minor in international humanitarian affairs.
In those trips, Mr. Jackson witnessed extreme poverty in the country known as the murder capital of the world. He built dormitories, a green house, a tilapia pond, helped raised a couple hundred thousand dollars and gave his shoes to a family of eight who shared a single pair.
For the seventh trip, he was invited by the mayor’s office to San Pedro Sula, the country’s second largest city next to the capital, to present a development plan for the city.
“That’s where the documentary idea came up. I was creating art and different visuals that would be political and would talk about the country and discuss issues about Honduras for Hondurans,” he said.
Mr. Jackson returned to Fordham University invigorated.
“Brandon walked into my dorm room one day and he decided the country needed its story told,” said director Mr.Purdee, who met Mr. Jackson at Fordham. “He was so inspired, but no one wanted to do it. I didn’t have anything to do that summer, so he talked me into it.”
“I told him, ‘I really want to do this film and it’s in a poor country and it’s kind of dangerous and we’re 19 and we’ve never made a film before. How do you feel?’ and he said, ‘Let’s do it. Absolutely,’” Mr. Jackson said.
Mr. Purdee, 24, of eastern Pennsylvania didn’t have a particular interest in Honduras, but had worked on documentaries dealing with humanitarian and political subjects with his documentarian mother, Roberta Morris Purdee.
Mr. Jackson and Mr. Purdee immediately started researching what kind of story they could tell, while keeping the overarching concept of the country. They were living together at the time, and according to Mr. Purdee, Mr. Jackson put up a piece of cardboard that had names of aid workers and politicians written on it and twine, connecting the names, like a detective’s brainstorming board.
In July 2011, using Mr. Jackson’s contacts in the San Pedro Sula mayor’s office, the two 19-year-olds who spoke little to no Spanish and Mrs. Purdee set off for a 21-day trip around Honduras to interview NGOs, reporters, aid workers and politicians, including three presidents.
For the first half of the trip, they had a Honduran translator/fixer who traveled with them.
“She was our translator and guide and the Honduran component to our crew. That helped us with safety and people feeling comfortable around us,” Mr. Jackson said.
But the translator began to feel pressure from the mayor’s office to not be as involved, and quit halfway through the trip.
“She put us on a bus to the center of drug territory and left,” Mr. Purdee recalled. “We didn’t have a translator and we had limited Spanish, so we had to fend for ourselves. At one point, Brandon ran out onto the streets because he knew there were always Mormon missionaries around, so he was hoping to find one (to be a translator) and he did.”
They traveled all over the country on a “chicken bus,” a yellow school bus that travels all over the country.
“The only rule was you had to check your machete at the door, unless you had a sheath,” Mr. Purdee said.
After one of their interviews, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Purdee, tired of Honduran food, looked for and found an Italian restaurant that was about to close. Still, they ordered their food and the owner approached them to say they were closing up. As soon as the owner heard them speak, he asked if they were Americans. As it turned out, the owner was the interim consul of Belize in Honduras, and he became one of the interviewees in the film.
After the trip, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Purdee spent the next three to four years editing more than 40 hours of film, about 10 hours of which was entirely in Spanish, on Mr. Purdee’s Mac. They also conducted follow-up interviews, including one with Manny Rapalo, a correspondent and producer for RT America News based in Washington D.C., who was born in Honduras.
Last year, Mr. Jackson attended the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival as a guest, and his mother encouraged him to submit “This is Honduras.”
“There are several characters in the film from Cleveland and I spent a lot of time in Chagrin Falls, so it’s a very appropriate venue for a film. It’s a place I really wanted to show because I feel like the area is in the DNA of the film,” Mr. Jackson said.
Both Mr. Jackson and Mr. Purdee will be at CDFF, Oct. 5-9, where “This is Honduras” will have its world premiere at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 8 at the United Methodist Church, 20 S. Franklin St. in Chagrin Falls.