Film “27 Months” Documents the Peace Corps Experience Like Never Before
By Patricia Sullivan on Friday, October 18th, 2013
Idealistic and enthusiastic Peace Corps Volunteers set out with aspirations to change the world. Suddenly, they are propelled into a new culture, and over a two-year period undergo a process of change — and experience life in a way — that most people in the states will never come to understand.
Director and producer Ashley Archer Tindall has set out on a journey to document this Peace Corps experience, following three Volunteers as they help change and are changed by the countries in which they are stationed in her documentary 27 Months, to be available Fall of 2014.
Tindall became interested in pursuing this project during her third year in college, while abroad in Senegal. It was during this time that she first met a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers who were going through the similar transitions of being alone in a foreign place. She marveled at the Volunteers’ language skills, and their ability to live in remote areas for two years at a time. Tindall realized that the individual stories of these people have never really been told, and she wanted to demonstrate the universality of Peace Corps service by choosing three different people and following them across the whole spectrum of their service.
Official website: “Three Americans challenge themselves and their neighbors to bridge cultural chasms and find common ground during 27 months of getting lost, getting sick, struggling with friendship, romance, humor and the nagging worry that all their efforts will amount to nothing.”
The first Volunteers were found at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s celebration of Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary. Tindall met with many of the new invitees, but two young people stood out from the crowd. These were Andy Brake and Catherine Clarke; both graduated from UNC in 2010 and would be stationed in Liberia and the Philippines respectively.
Tindall wanted to make sure she found people as different as possible, so she steered clear of the college crowd in pursuit of an older third Volunteer. The result of her search was Japanese-American Marcy Morita. Marcy was an interesting addition because of her long family tradition with the Peace Corps. Marcy’s parents hosted some of the first PCVs in the early 1960’s, when they did their pre-service training in Hawaii.
As filming commenced, Tindall was shocked by the ease of communication and the general welcome she received from every community that her cameras rolled in. The comfort perfect strangers felt in front of a camera and her ability to connect to her Volunteers via Internet cafés, Skype, and cell-phone conversations stood as a testament to how people are becoming so much more media savvy across the globe. Tindall also noted that the people in these areas really relished an opportunity to have their say, a chance to represent themselves to the rest of the world in a way that may not be the popular U.S. or Euro-centric vision of that country.
One of Tindall’s biggest challenges in filming was also perhaps one of the greatest personal benefits for the Volunteers she focused on. Tindall and her crew went into these communities, not as members or as Volunteers, but as silent observers, and they needed help not only with language but also with understanding cultural practices that RPCVs know are necessary to surviving in a foreign country. Many times the Volunteers would have to assist the crew with this problem, a task that transformed from an added stress to an understanding that they were in fact learning and changing with their new culture. The Volunteers were an even bigger asset to the crew than the translators or local coordinators, who often came from the capital and knew less about the communities than they did. Having the ability to show someone new around a community fostered a confidence in the Volunteers that was important to their individual growth.
Though Tindall is not an RPCV herself, her camerawoman Clare Major (Senegal 2004-2006) and her assistant editor Paul Donatelli (Bangladesh 2002-2004) both served as Volunteers. Tindall hopes for a national broadcast at the close of her filming process, and plans on doing a film festival run toward the end of 2014.
The films website also features short videos and stories of things that may not have made the movie, and Tindall encourages RPCVs to put up some of their own videos or participate in an interactive map feature on the site.
Visit the official website here http://www.filmarcher.com/27-months/, and keep an eye out for the exciting new documentary next fall!
All photos credited to Ashley Tindall and the “27 Months” production team