UCSC grad student to promote short film at Cannes Film Festival

Rolando Vargas
Screenshots from Walking Kids of Choco (above and below) courtesy of Rolando Vargas

UC Santa Cruz graduate student Rolando Vargas is heading to France this week for the screening of his documentary film, Walking Kids of Choco, at the 67h annual Cannes Film Festival.

One of the most prestigious film festivals in the world, the Cannes festival each year previews new films of all genres, by invitation only, at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès.

Vargas’s 24-minute documentary spotlights the Kuna people, an indigenous community located in the middle of the Darien Gap tropical rain forest on the border between Colombia and Panama, who follow ancient Native American traditions.

The film focuses on the lives of the children who must walk to school for four hours daily to get educated in a different culture--exploring their motivation and how they deal with the complicated balance between tradition and modernity.

“I did the editing and the post-production process at UCSC,” noted Vargas. “At the beginning of the film, I talk about being in a film and digital media Ph.D program and how this influenced the way I conceived the story presented in the film. So UCSC is present behind the camera, but in front of it too, so to speak.”  

“Editing a film is a very complex process, especially because you lose the ability of seeing it with fresh eyes,” Vargas added. “I did the camera, the editing, and the research, so you have to understand that you lose objectivity at a certain point. I started working with Pardis Mehdizadegan, a fellow Ph.D Film student at the end of the fall quarter, and she became ‘my eyes’ during the last editing phase. Her feedback was crucial to finishing the film.”

It took Vargas eight months to make the documentary, plus one year of research prior to shooting. But he found the filming process to be the most demanding part of the project.

“Being in a tropical rain forest without electricity brought many unexpected issues that must be resolved on a daily basis,” said Vargas. “Because I was mostly walking all day with film equipment, I lost 12 pounds during the shooting. It took me six months to gain them back.”

Vargas completed the documentary in February and is now in the initial promotional phase of the film. After France, he is off to Portugal, Brazil and Colombia for the next several months. But he is excited to start the tour at Cannes.

“I will be screening it to selected professionals during the week of May 19, and the film will be accessible to all festival spectators via a film library located at the Short Film corner,” said Vargas.

“I will be there for the whole festival,” he added. “They have tons of activities for filmmakers, and I have always enjoyed the sharp reading that Europeans in general do of my work. It is also a perfect festival for networking.”

Walking Kids of Choco will additionally be screened on the UCSC campus on June 4, beginning at 7 p.m. in Studio C at the Communications Building.

Admission is free and the public is invited.