Aurora grad helps produce Cuba documentary
By Pete Letheby AURORA -- Brent Meier admits to some "wanderlust," as he puts it.
"In my lifelong transition from vacationing to traveling, I've realized the opportunity and potential of visiting a place," he said. "Sooner or later, you're home again, and the stories become the most important part of the trip."
The 26-year-old Meier, an Aurora native and 2002 Aurora High School graduate, has some intriguing stories about Cuba, where he spent more than three weeks in July 2008 filming a documentary for friend John Walters of Ann Arbor, Mich., an artist and "Renaissance maintenance man." The two put together a fascinating 23-minute film titled "La Solidaridad" ("solidarity" in English). The documentary focuses on Cubans' resourcefulness in creating transportation in a country that, for the most part, is closed off from the rest of the world.
Walters introduces the documentary with his interest and intent:
"Cubans are known within America for having this intuitive ability to make something out of nothing," he says. "I don't know if it's a mentality down there, but everyone has to make do with what they have, and everyone helps everyone else."
Most of this ingenuity has evolved from (1) a 50-year economic embargo of Cuba by the United States and other Western countries, and (2) the termination of aid from the Soviet Union after that country's communist system collapsed in 1991. As a result, old -- sometimes very old -- American and Soviet-made cars are common on Cuban thoroughfares.
While in Cuba, on one occasion Walters and Meier rode in a 1980, Soviet-made Lada. The car had 270,000 miles and was on its second engine. The two saw many autos made long before 1980 still motoring down streets and expressways.
Even more incredible were some of the contraptions that Cubans had devised for transportation. The documentary details the creativity of Arsenio Fuentes, a 48-year-old man confined to a wheelchair since he was in a car accident at age 2. Fuentes and friends built what looks like an expanded golf cart entirely from discarded items, including seats from a school and glass from a bus no longer in use.
The gadget, however, was plenty good enough to get Fuentes around town.
"Cubans fix stuff," Fuentes said in the documentary. "Here we look for used things. We fix things and we continue on."
"Cubans can make something out of nothing," Meier said. "It is an attitude born out of economic necessity."
An early, short version of the documentary has shown at festivals in Lincoln and Mishawaka, Ind., as well as at an exhibit of Cuban art in Eugene, Ore. Meier -- who is the technology and education coordinator at El Centro de las Americas, a Lincoln agency dedicated to improving the lives of Latino families -- estimates he spent around 100 hours editing 15 hours of film down to the 23 minutes.
And the editing isn't over yet. Meier and Walters are fine-tuning the final piece and hope to find venues in Nebraska and elsewhere to show it.
"Brent is a great guy to work with," Walters said, "and not a bad editor, too."
Both young men had already experienced cultures in several Latin American countries before the Cuba trip, and both are fluent in Spanish. Meier's mother, Constanza, is a native of Colombia and was Nebraska's first certified bilingual court interpreter and translator.
Walters and Meier have talents in multiple areas. Meier is a 2006 University of Nebraska-Lincoln grad majoring in studio art, and one of his college projects was making a "penny mosaic" -- a portrait of himself using 7,200 pennies of different shades. It now adorns the living room of Greg and Constanza Meier's home in Aurora.
For Walters, 29 years old, a wide array of interests and talents come together in sculpture, metal fabrication, architecture and ceramics. He has made nearly 50 pieces of art, some rather large and all of them innovative. Many are on display in Lincoln.
It is likely that "La Solidaridad" won't be the duo's last documentary. Meier hopes to do a future film on immigrants in Nebraska's public school system.
And a collaborative excursion is on the burner -- "Pan Americana," which will examine Latin America's common use of light-duty pickup trucks as a mode of transporting people and goods. Walters said they hope to travel the Pan American Highway and record the journey using, among other means, stop-motion photography, a painstaking and unique art form that creates "video" using thousands of still photos.
To view John Daniel Walters' works of art, go to his Web site at www.johndanielwalters.com.