Villanova film group documents life and poverty in Costa Rica



Jon Mantovani

The members of No Trace Films journeyed to Costa Rica to capture the truths of the land and its people. The stories and topics they captured encapsulate their documentary, “One is No One.”

No Trace Films was born in a Social Justice Documentary class taught by Professor Hezekiah Lewis. The class consists of 21 students who aim to promote social justice by implementing film as a catalyst for conversation between the public audience and communities often overlooked within the global community.  

When you left for your freshman year at Villanova, you were told of the glamorous college experience, not only socially, but also academically. This course is more than just a class—it’s an experience. It is a student run Production Company in which each student has a job and makes and executes all decisions. 

It all started in the newly renovated room, 29D. The classroom became a breeding ground of creative ideas, frustrations, findings and friendships. 

“It isn’t about the final product. I could care less about the screening,” Lewis told the class. “It’s about the process, the story. It’s about cherishing the art of storytelling and doing justice to the people we interact amongst.” 

Those words, coming at the beginning of the class, were not only inspiring, but also daunting. Didi Navarro, one of the producers, commented, “We left the U.S. with pretty unclear ideas of exactly what we would be exposed to when we arrived in Costa Rica, in terms of the living conditions of the family we would be spending all of our time with.”

As the plane landed in San Jose, the students were awed by the beautiful culture and embodiment of the country’s motto, “pura vida,” or “pure life.” However, as they roamed through the city and began to speak with the natives, it was clear that they were living anything other than a pure life. They found a constant theme of dissatisfaction with the government. Officials entice their people with unfulfilled promises of prosperity. 

They spent the majority of the two weeks in Liberia, filming main character Mama’s family. As they dodged potholes entering the slums of Guanacaste, they were overcome by a feeling of purpose—that they had a responsibility to document this reality. Although they were surrounded by disparity and poverty in the highest extremes they could have imagined, the people opened their hearts and smiles and made the slums feel like home to No Trace Films. 

There was one household that became family, and that was Mama’s. Picture your grandmother—a loving, caring and kind person with a hug that can cure any heavy heart—that is Mama. The household fits 10: Mama and Dennis, the matriarch and her husband; Leonore, Mama’s daughter, who has three children of her own; Brittany, Felipe and Meriam; and José Luis, Mama’s grandson, is the sleeper of the house. Mama’s grandchildren, Bryon and Kevin, also fell in love with the family, as they hope you will as well when you see “One is No One.”

The topic of unfulfilled promises became prominent again when they talked with Mama. Day after day, Mama walks the streets of the slums and collects recyclables of the community. This is a common job among Costa Rican people. For years, the government has promised a recycling center, which would make the job safer, easier and more respectable. 

“Because we work with trash, they treat us like trash,” said one of the recyclers.  No Trace Films knew that this is the story to tell and one of the injustices to bring to light. 

When the two week filming period came to a close, the students turned off their cameras and said their final goodbyes to a neighborhood that embraced them as its own. They entered as tourists, but left as “Ticas.” 

Cinematographer and editor Evan McIntyre commented that “going to Costa Rica to shoot our documentary was the most life changing and humbling experience I’ve ever had.”

“One is No One” reveals the injustices concerning poverty and the universal issue of unfulfilled promises from the government. 

Navarro described that “The devastating circumstances we encountered pushed us to make the most amazing documentary possible in order to show the societal injustices the families in Costa Rica face on a daily basis.” 

In addition to a documentary, No Trace Films is creating a mobile app that will help educate people on the works of Aliarse, a non-profit company working to bettering Costa Rica. Aliarse was the project’s backbone in San Jose. They documented their clean water, road safety and breast cancer initiatives. They hope this app will help Aliarse continue to do their good works and make Costa Rica a better place.  

No Trace Films hopes you join them at the “One is No One” premiere on April 28 at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. In addition to the Kimmel Center premiere, screenings of “One is No One” will be held at Villanova’s Connelly Center, on May 1 at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. They will also hold a Sustainable Solutions Summit on April 30 in the Driscoll Auditorium from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. to expand on the issues found in the documentary.