Through his humanitarian efforts in Guatemala over the years, Michael Oswald has seen miracles. Medical missions organized by Oswald have helped people in dire conditions restore their sight, regain their hearing and drastically improve their quality of life.
A new film project may allow Oswald to finally share that experience with the masses.
“It was my vision to take someone down there and do a documentary, because I’d come back from these trips and think, ‘I can’t believe we’re the only few people who got to witness that miracle,” Oswald said.
Oswald is an anesthetist at Kootenai Health and Anesthesia Associates of Coeur d’Alene, and has worked for years with the International Eye Institute in Guatemala. He thought bringing a filmmaker along for a trip to Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala would lead to a compelling story of their work, though he didn’t have a specific idea in mind before the trip.
Enter Jordan Halland, a Coeur d’Alene-based filmmaker who works on everything from short films and music videos to branded documentaries for companies. His wife is a nurse who happened to strike up a conversation with a colleague about humanitarian missions to Guatemala. That colleague was Oswald. After meeting and looking at some photos, Halland was convinced they could put a project together.
“Our plan was to shoot enough footage to make a sizzle reel we could take around in order to fund a full project,” Halland said.
The subject of the documentary walked into the clinic in Santiago Atitlán on the very first day of the trip.
“I’m just out of the operating room (with North Idaho’s Dr. Justin StormoGibson) and Jordan runs in and says, ‘There’s three blind kids out front!’” Oswald said. “Sure enough there’s this family…walking around aimlessly and one of the children was flopping around on the floor. It literally brought tears to my eyes. They would look up at the sun and it was so painful for them that they’d be in tears.”
The three children were siblings, the youngest still just a baby, and all had cataracts that resulted in extremely limited vision. Cataracts is the leading cause of blindness in Latin America, and generally, if pediatric cataracts isn’t addressed at an early age, the vision loss is permanent, Oswald said.
“These kids had enough vision that if we did the surgery for them they might have a chance,” Oswald said.
Just getting to the clinic that day was a challenge for the children. Their father also went blind as a child, and he supports the family by selling baskets he hand weaves out of corn stocks. The family lives in a two-room, dirt floor home without plumbing up in the mountains, making the journey to the hospital itself extremely arduous.
Oswald and Halland then arranged to return a few months later to begin filming the children’s surgeries. The baby of the family was just 12 months old at the start of surgery.
“We rode in the back of a truck up a windy road in the mountains that was super dangerous just to interview the parents. Then at the hospital, we got pretty amazing access to the operating rooms and the surgeries themselves,” Halland said.
The experience yielded some incredible visuals and a compelling narrative. The project would become “Mira,” a short-subject documentary that explored the family’s way-of-life and the children’s surgery. Most of the filming is now complete, Halland said, but he will return to Guatemala in November to document how the surgeries have impacted the family.
“Stories like this were happening down there all the time, and it’s pretty dramatic when you see it first hand,” Halland said. “All of a sudden, in a couple of days, their lives change drastically. It’s really powerful to watch.”
Though nearly complete, money is needed to finish post-production as well as complete translations of the interviews. The family speaks a dialect of Spanish specific to the region that is not widely known.
Oswald and Halland recently launched a Kickstarter project with a $40,000 goal. In addition to completing the movie, funds will also go to build the family a home.
“They all sleep in the same room, there’s very little hygiene, no inside toilet… it’s a pretty bare bones existence,” Halland said. “A new home would change their lives overnight.”
Completing the project for Halland means much more than adding a credit to his filmography.
“I wanted to humanize a portion of the world that maybe a lot of people don’t know about,” Halland said. “I like stories about people who are marginalized, and I love watching them improve their lives and just improve their situations.”
Oswald is continuing to expand his humanitarian efforts in the region, working to bring more Inland Northwest-based medical professionals and others who want to help ease the lives of those in Guatemala. He sees “Mira” as a way to showcase just one of the incredible stories he’s seen while working there.
“It was a miracle… and we just need to get it out there,” Oswald said. “It would be a catastrophe to not have this done completely.”
Watch the trailer for “Mira,” find more information on the project and contribute to the cause by searching “Mira” in the documentary category at Kickstarter.com, or follow the direct link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/784001241/mira-look?ref=discovery&term=Mira
The project has until Sept. 14 to raise its funds.
Pledge levels include various perks - $25 gets an early digital download of the film, which is expected to be complete by November 2019. A $100 pledge earns tickets to a special private screening with a Q&A with members of the cast and crew. A $500 pledge adds a specialty handcrafted basket made by the family’s father. At the top end of the pledge level, $10,000 earns a guided trip by Oswald and Halland through the region of Guatemala depicted in the film.
Visit Jordan Halland’s website at: www.JordanHalland.com
For those interested in Mike Oswald’s growing humanitarian efforts, contact him at Mike@AACDA.com