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Now and Then: Remarkable New Doc 'La Camioneta,' a Masterful Miniature (TRAILER)

Photo of Matt Brennan By Matt Brennan | Thompson on Hollywood! May 29, 2013 at 2:10PM

Spotsylvania County, Virginia and Queztal City, Guatemala are separated by nearly 3,000 miles of road, and by what would seem, at first, an unbridgeable cultural distance. But in Mark Kendall's remarkable documentary "La Camioneta" -- a brilliant microhistory of our globalized world -- you're hard pressed to consider them anything but neighbors.

All too often, though, the proverb of trash and treasure works in reverse, and if from a political standpoint "La Camioneta" neglects to make the long tradition of U.S. malfeasance in Latin America explicit, its subtle construction builds to an emotional impact that far exceeds its size. The camioneta that emerges when the tape and newspaper are peeled away glistens in red, white, and blue -- and chrome. Its souped-up, modified Americanism at once nods to the United States' official ideals and critiques its baleful reality, casting a shine, as the film does, into the shadows.

The film ends as it began, traversing the border. The scene shifts from children in Guatemala celebrating the new camioneta's unveiling to children in the United States, smilingly blissfully -- and blissfully unaware -- as their school bus glides through their comfortable suburb. "On a journey, there is nothing that is written," one of the drivers reflects in voiceover. "You always meet new people, new friends. And even if they weren't really friends, you shared the same bus for a short time. And that makes you part of the same journey." The journey depicted in "La Camioneta" belongs, then, not only to Kendall, to bus drivers, to Guatemalans. It's ours, too.
"La Camioneta" premiered at SXSW in 2012. It can be seen in theatrical release this Friday, May 31 through June 6 at Brooklyn's reRun Theater; June 7-13 at Los Angeles' Downtown Independent; and July 2-7 at San Diego's Digital Gym. No downloads or streams are available as yet.

This article is related to: Now and Then, Reviews, Genres, Documentary, Independents, SXSW

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.