Columbia film students Braulio Fonseca, Jon Farley, Max Gould-Meisel, return from 40-day, 8000 mile trip

By Shardae Smith

Traveling 8,000 miles across the world taught three Columbia student filmmakers valuable lessons in friendship, work ethic and foreign culture as they took a journey through Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua and Costa Rica by way of a 1993 Toyota Previa van that already had 160,000 miles on it.

As previously reported by The Chronicle on Dec. 6, junior film and video major Braulio Fonseca and five peers planned a 40-day road trip across the Americas in an effort to produce a feature-length film and documentary titled “In Search of Dirt Roads,” regardless of danger warnings about traveling in Central America.

What started as a six-man crew quickly turned into a group of three when the fantasy of traveling in foreign countries became a realization after shooting footage in Arizona. But Fonseca, 28, senior film and video major Jon Farley, 23, and junior film and video major Max Gould-Meisel, 20, decided to continue with the trip and were able to successfully make it back to Chicago by the start of the spring 2011 semester.

The filmmakers lost their translator, who Fonseca and Farley said warned them not to continue. Senior marketing major Mike Zima, who was responsible for their marketing and behind-the-scenes footage, and their producer, senior film and video major Anthony Polito left also, right before they were able to cross the Mexican border, but argued it wasn’t out of fear.

“We realized real quick we’d have to step it up and deal with whatever we’d have to deal with,” Fonseca said.

He said people unfamiliar with Mexico had false perceptions because of the U.S. Department of Travel’s warnings about Mexican drug cartels and kidnappings. Fonseca said he felt the dangers were overhyped.

“The only crazy thing about Mexico is the speed bumps,” Fonseca said.

Farley agreed. He said the people he met in Central America couldn’t believe what the people from the States thought about traveling outside of the U.S.

“They basically just laughed like, ‘Are you serious?’” Farley said. “It’s a really different impression there than I get from the media here.”

He said they also broke a few travel rules while abroad.

“We did a lot of things people told us not to do, like don’t eat the food,” Farley said. “Well, we ate a lot of the food and we were perfectly fine.”

Fonseca said it was hard to continue at times because of Gould-Meisel and Farley’s built-up fear. However, they continued on their journey, despite a scare from the Guatemalan army and at the border of Costa Rica, in which they said the soldiers drew their guns.

In Guatemala, Fonseca said that after showing identification, they were able to proceed. While at the Costa Rica border, he said they were forced to spend the night in their van until the morning. Then they were allowed to continue without any further information on why they were held.

The young men said they weren’t fazed.

Farley said his only disappointment on the trip was the rising tension between Fonseca and Gould-Meisel, although they expected to fight before leaving on the trip.

“Fonseca described the feuds between them as a father and son relationship, because he’s older than Gould-Meisel and Farley.

“I was like dad, and after 40 days of hanging out with dad, you don’t want to hang out with dad anymore,” Fonseca said. “The hardest thing I had to do in my life was look after two boys.”

Fonseca said because of the tension between the castmates, he was forced to cut parts from the script.

Before leaving, Fonseca had a talk with John Rangel, part-time faculty member in the Film and Video Department, and he said he was advised not to change plans.

“The only advice I could give him was to not compromise; to make the movie he wanted to make,” Rangel said. “It’s very easy to change your mind and get swayed.”

But according to Fonseca, it proved difficult to act alongside Gould-Meisel and shoot scenes when they disagreed.

Before leaving, the crew became aware of a forum started by a family friend of Polito that was against them traveling out of the country independently.

Farley said the individuals commenting weren’t informed of their intentions.

“One person [commented], ‘If they want to help, why don’t they do something different than going down there and just filming?’” Farley said. “Well, that wasn’t our goal. Our goal was to shoot a feature-length film.”

He said he plans to take on the editor’s role and edit the raw footage soon.

Fonseca said his 40-day trip taught him not to live in fear, and he’s planning to take another trip in the future.

“It reminded me of when Christopher Columbus was about to set sail into the ocean and people kept telling

him the world is flat and he was going to fall off,” said. “I want everyone to know the world is round. You’re not going to fall off the edge if you go look at it.”