Thursday, March 2, 2017

Documenting the Coffee & Honey Harvest in Huehuetenango

At just over 6200ft elevation, winded, but yet proud of my accomplishment, I began setting up my camera gear for what was next to come.


The coffee harvest here in the mountainous region of Huehuetenango. Guatemala is home to what surely were severe 45° mountain slopes and expansive highland views; a perfect setting for great imagery. Elvera, and her two daughters, are indigenous coffee farmers and owners of a small plot of land filled with organically grown coffee plants. This is a precious opportunity so rarely given to women in a society so dominated by male influence. This was a welcomed open door for change. 

As a documentary videographer, I have been tasked by F2F to tell Elvera’s story as she works to better her family’s lives through the exportation of high quality, woman-grown, organic coffee.  Through the FECCEG’s (Federaci√≥n Comercializadora de Caf√© Especial de Guatemala) concerted effort to extend local markets, these small micro-producers finally have a voice in such a competitive international market.

 Throughout my two-week assignment here in Guatemala I traveled to multiple coffee-producing farms, beekeeper’s hives, goat raising communities and also documented the coffee production process from start to finish. Countless hours of filming, tireless effort of chasing the light of the sun, multiple bee stings, thousands of clips, and two terabytes of footage later I can proudly look back and say my time and effort was very well spent and will hopefully do some good for these communities and organizations.


So lets rewind back to the mountainside where I found myself ducking under trees and hauling camera gear up these steep slopes trying to keep up with the local kid who was leading the way to the location where the coffee harvest was taking place.  He was an ace at it and I was crashing my way through, I can assure you of that. We eventually arrived to this singular flat spot on the mountain which gave me the opportunity to film amazing landscapes with humble people working extremely hard at their craft. Between unique GoPro point of view shots from the farmers’ perspectives’, stabilized RED Epic Dragon movement shots, and drone aerials to sincere personalized interviews- it was safe to say the steep hike was absolutely worth it.


Fast forward from here, and we are driving down a dusty, windy dirt road at 4:30am on our way to capture the first rays of light casting down on a series of bee hives where honey is produced. Adorn with a full veil, gloves (not so lucky the next time) and long sleeves head to toe we were ready to head in for battle. Armed with my RED Epic Dragon 6k balanced on a Ronin-M camera stabilizer I had no other way but to stay focused on the task at hand as over 12,000 bees were abruptly awoken.

“Whatever happens, don’t drop the camera…” I kept thinking to myself, as the bees turned the silent mountainside into a an overwhelming, reverberating buzz. Despite the turmoil, a feeling of serenity passed over me as I realized I was in very good hands with the FECCEG technical  staff. In order to help me capture the imagery we needed to show these bee hives in good light the locals continually took the initiative to apply smoke to my hands and head in order to keep the bees at bay. After a few hours of squinting at my screen through my netted veil I captured the imagery we needed. I learned a tremendous amount about the toils of being a beekeeper and have such a deeper appreciation for acquiring quality honey. 


We continued our journey from there, documenting the work that FECCEG is doing to build up local capacity of knowledge and expertise, as these farmers hone their craft and exercise their newly found voice. We traveled to local women weavers, goat farms and to see the honey extraction process. We started with coffee cherries (pre shelling) and ended with roasted and packaged coffee.


I was able to capture it, every step of the coffee process, and met some truly amazing people along the way. Everyone at FECCEG was extremely helpful in the best kind of way because as a filmmaker there are always challenges with setting up shots. From getting the perfect lighting, to repositioning subjects and repeating actions from different angles, there is always a challenge so while working in these remote environments. I couldn’t have been more thankful for this help I received.

As I sit here at my computer, categorizing footage and translating interviews, I am humbled by the opportunity that this assignment placed before me to truly impact other people’s lives. I am eager to dig into this footage and craft something that both embodies FECCEG and Kishe but also creates a feeling of intense pride towards the tireless efforts of the many hundreds of producers that create the FECCEG name.  

Time. Well. Spent.


Blake

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