18 June 2020

Monteverde and the power of faith-shaped living

Photos above and below are screenshots from Sweet Home Monteverde.
Nobody ever dreamed this would become a tourist place, that people would be coming from all over the world. 

We were just farmers. We had farms.

-- Lucky Guindon, one of the original settlers of Monteverde, Costa Rica.

On November 4, 1950, a small band of Quakers left Fairhope, Alabama, and made their way by road and narrow-gauge train through Texas, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, arriving three months later at San José, Costa Rica.

This overland vanguard reunited in San José with other Fairhope Quakers arriving by air. They were all looking for a new home in this country that had no army, where these immigrants dreamed of a new life to be lived according to their nonviolent faith. When they found that new home in the heights of the Cordillera de Tilarán range, they named it Monteverde.

The full story of the Fairhope to Monteverde migration -- its origins in Alabama, success in locating a new place to farm, economic and educational developments along the way, the birth and progress of the concern for conserving the cloud forest, and the faces of today's Monteverde -- is told in a beautiful new documentary film, Sweet Home Monteverde.

In one sense, the film could not help being beautiful. Talented filmmakers could point their camera almost anywhere in that part of our planet, and the beauty would certainly flow through the lens. (I don't intend to discount the skill required to record the amazing scenes of plant and animal life you'll see in the film.) But, after only a few minutes into this visual journey, I became aware of something else about the care with which this film was made: the delightful rhythm of contrasting images.

History and chronology, naturally, play an important role in how the film is organized, but this exquisite editing is something to celebrate. Ancient and fascinating footage of early logistical challenges are mixed with fresh, outrageously breathtaking glimpses of nature. Reminiscences by first-generation settlers, now in their nineties, and eloquent retellings from schoolchildren, are woven together. Along the way we also hear from off-site scholars and visitors and the former president of the country, all fitted together with unobtrusive elegance. The filmmakers' command of their art and craft, as well as their respect and affection for their subject, are abundantly clear.

Given all that, it wouldn't be surprising if their film had erred on the side of uncritical sentimentality. It's true that, if there were a shadow side of the early years -- were all the first-generation children really always at peace with their relocation to that isolated place? -- we don't get any such first-hand accounts. However, we hear from several of the elders that conflicts did erupt among the settlers at times. One settler recounts, "We were a headstrong bunch of people -- [that's] one reason we were down there." When one family decided to educate their three children for a couple of years at the local public school instead of the Friends school, others disapproved. "But we worked through it ... and it was OK."

Costa Rica's own peaceful reputation doesn't go unchallenged. One commentator points out that it can be a violent society. We see several glimpses of the country's police force. Former president Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera (2014 to 2018) had this to say to Sweet Home Monteverde's camera:
It is true that Costa Rica, being demilitarized, it's not necessarily a pacifistic country. And it is a source of concern that even when we have this seemingly strong and definitive adherence to demilitarization, we do not have an equivalent in the way we relate to each other. And that is something that we need to deal with. And the only way to do that, I think, is in the context of a nation, and a government, that takes care of the common good and upholds social justice, education, and the access to health and other services as one of its most important national goals.
The film treats another theme with a kind of vagueness that I slightly regretted but found completely unsurprising: the actual faith of those earliest settlers. It's hinted at in several places but never really described except in terms of its discipleship emphases: peace, equality, community, simplicity, social justice. However, there's nothing to stop you, the viewer, from including this fertile theme in your post-viewing discussion that I hope you'll be having in your meeting or church. Can you imagine how your own faith might impel you to give up everything familiar and relocate yourself and your family for conscience' sake?

The worldwide Quaker story includes several such migrations. In a previous post, Ohio Byways, I mentioned the relocations of Quaker families and whole meetings from slave-holding states to free states such as Ohio. The museums and homesteads representing their legacies are stops on the Quaker byways of southwestern Ohio, where the preserved evidence of their domestic discipleship tells any curious traveler about their faith-shaped lifestyles. In the film, former Monteverde Friends School teacher Jonathan Ogle likewise testifies to his experience: "The power of the model of living one's life deserves more credit than I was giving it...." And that Monteverde model now has the potential of touching at least some of the many thousands of tourists passing through every (normal) year.

Sweet Home Monteverde runs just under an hour -- an amazingly compact job of telling a huge story! I hope that Friends meetings and churches everywhere (and anyone else intrigued by this story) will arrange screenings and discussions. The film seems ideal for all ages and especially for intergenerational groups.

Important detail: since the film was released to the world just before theaters and film festivals went into pandemic mode, the filmmakers haven't been able so far to promote their film through the usual methods. To recover the expenses of making this unique documentary, they are asking audiences to make a donation, if possible, for virtual "admission" when they sign up up for password-protected 24-hour screening periods. Instructions here.

I'm happy to see that Intermountain Yearly Meeting of Friends has scheduled a screening this Saturday as part of their 2020 sessions. My own congregation, Camas Friends Church, will have a chance to view and discuss the film on July 8.

Sweet Home Monteverde is streamed through Vimeo's platform at 1920 x 1080 pixels. The filmmakers can send you a discussion guide (my slightly edited version is here) and, on request, can participate in viewers' discussions via videoconferencing.

Monteverde Friends School: The film includes several historical and contemporary glimpses of school life. I first mentioned Sweet Home Monteverde a couple of posts ago, in the context of Monteverde Friends School's pandemic-related need for help from its international supporters. That support is still needed. Once again, here's the School's online donation page.

CNN's John Blake: This moment feels different.

How this moment feels to Buddy Guy. (With thanks to Donna Laine for the link.)

Peace Arch Park: A strange and delightful 42-acre zone where border controls are suspended.

Sean Guillory on Soviet-era depictions of American racism; and Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon on the racial stereotypes revealed in Alexei Balabanov's 2000 film Brother No. 2.

Как квакеры спасали Россию: книга Сергея Никитина о квакерской гуманитарной помощи России.
С 1916 по 1931 год квакеры смогли вполне мирно и плодотворно сотрудничать со всеми властями: с чиновниками царской России, с чехословацкими легионерами и большевиками. Это сотрудничество способствовало спасению сотен тысяч людей, которые выжили благодаря квакерским пайкам, врачам, тракторам и лошадям. В России практически ничего не известно об этой помощи, имена спасителей забыты, добрые дела преданы забвению. Сергей Никитин, многолетний представитель Amnesty International в России и исследователь истории квакеров, своею книгой стремится восстановить историческую справедливость.
(This item concerns Sergei Nikitin's book, just published, about the history of Quaker relief work in Russia. I've heard reports that plans are afoot for an English-language translation -- I'll keep you informed.)

UPDATE: The English translation, Friends and Comrades, is now available as an e-book from Amazon.

I'm a sucker (so to speak) for a good harmonica. Here's Britain's Steve "West" Weston.

No comments: