La Camioneta Tracks the Journey of School Buses to Guatemala


It might take the viewer a moment to realize that the voiceover guiding us through director Mark Kendall’s documentary La Camioneta is meant to be the thoughts of one of the refurbished buses that are part of the film’s focus. In dulcet tones, the audience is served a healthy portion of age-old spiritual beliefs that have been contemporarily gummed into New Age triteness: “When you die, your body dies. But . . . your energy lives on inside everyone.” With that, we have the metaphysical framework for the film’s examination of the international journey of decommissioned American school buses. Every day, dozens of the vehicles are sold at auction, snapped up by drivers whose job it is to take them from the U.S., through Mexico, to their final destination in Guatemala. There they are refashioned into privately owned, brightly colored transportation (camionetas) for poor and working-class people. While just over an hour long, the film crams in a lot of information. The relative safety of the drivers while they’re picking the buses up in America is juxtaposed with the dangers they face in Mexico (especially from corrupt cops) and the growing threats against bus drivers in Guatemala, where the gangs that used to settle for shakedowns have become murderous. We also see the drivers with their families, making it clear that the bus—a symbol of upward mobility—is also often a thin safeguard against crushing poverty. This is powerful reportage, beautifully shot and gracefully laid out; too bad that Kendall ties it all up with more deep thoughts from the bus itself, thoughts that sound like outtakes from a TED Talk on the interconnectedness of all living things.