W. GEORGE LOVELL
Professor of Geography, Emeritus
Visiting Professor in Latin American History
Queen's University and Universidad Pablo de Olavide
Kingston, Ontario, Canada and Seville, Spain
WORK IN DOCUMENTARY FILM
Growing up in Glasgow in the 1950s and Sixties, well I remember when television first entered our lives and changed us in ways then unimaginable. As a boy and teenager, it was not only Miss Marks at Drumoyne Primary or Mr. Dewar at Allan Glen’s whose classes in Geography most captured my attention: it was watching John Grierson’s This Wonderful World, which aired on Scottish Television from 1957 to 1967. An icon of the documentary film movement in Britain, Grierson (1898-1972) also played a leading role in founding the National Film Board of Canada, for which the visionary Scot served as its first commissioner. Glued to the TV screen as I ate my supper, each episode of This Wonderful World truly did open up the world for me, and added the documentary genre to my already passionate love of the cinema and feature films (Read my JLAG article “Latin America on Screen” here). When, decades later as a university professor, the opportunity arose to participate in the making of a documentary film, I jumped at it.
The overture came my way via Lance Wisniewski, then under contract with Cambridge Studios in Boston to make a documentary film series called The Power of Place, also the name of an accompanying text by Harm de Blij. Funded by the Annenberg Foundation, the series first aired on PBS and featured thereafter in classroom instruction across the United States and Canada. From the mid-1990s on, it was a staple for university courses and high school curricula pertaining to the teaching of world regional geography.
In February 1994, I spent some two weeks with Lance in Guatemala, the country chosen as the setting for a pilot study for the entire project. Having heard about my work on Guatemala through contacts he made with the American Association of Geographers, Lance approached me with a view to having my research findings figure as the content of the documentary he would shoot. Our fortnight’s foray saw us head west from the old colonial capital, Antigua Guatemala, to Lake Atitlán, after which we headed north and west up into the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes, then east into Ixil country. The country’s brutal, three-decade long armed conflict was winding down, but palpable fear prevailed among a terrorized citizenry. Signs of the impact of war were still apparent wherever we ventured. We returned to Antigua by way of the Pacific piedmont, traversing the coastal lowlands below so that Lance would have footage from there to complement that culled from our journey across the Maya highlands.
From the hours of footage Lance accrued, two units were created, the first with a running time of twelve minutes, the second with a running time of eleven minutes. The title “Continuing Conquest” lends itself to both clips, the human rights focus of the first unit, while still inherent in the second unit, making room for considerations of demography, growing numbers, and the inability of the land, given how it is owned and operated, to meet family let alone national needs. Footage from If the Mango Tree Could Speak (1992), a documentary made by Pat Goudvis, was threaded into both units. For the second unit, Pat not Lance was the filmmaker who accompanied me on a return to Guatemala in February 2000, some three years after the signing of a peace accord on December 29, 1996 brought a formal end to the conflict.