Empowerment In Action: The Eco Spanish School Story

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Yuelin Liu

Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

“Life In A Day 2020” (2021) profoundly impacted my career, and it sparked my love for documentaries and their unique storytelling, inspiring my own approach to storytelling in the realm of filmmaking.

What motivated you to make your impact video?

Maria and Benedicto, the main characters of this documentary, motivated me to make this documentary. When we were doing research at the Eco Spanish School and deciding whose story to tell, we had so many options, but it was their selflessness in working hard for the sake of the community that always touched us and made us feel that if we could help get their story out there for more people to know, it would be the most rewarding thing we could do at the moment.

Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it: 

We primarily used a Sony camera for interviews and B-roll filming, but sometimes we used a DJI Osmo Pocket as Cam B for interviews and a supplementary B-roll camera. In addition, we had both a boom mic and a Rode’s lav mic ready for the interview.

Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story. 

We followed the 5-sequence storytelling techniques and the 3-ACT structure to tell the story. In addition, we also put stickers on the wall to physically help us organize our content.

How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be? 

The story is not 100% the same as what we thought it would be. Initially, we wanted to include both Maria and Benedicto’s personal stories growing up, so individual interviews were conducted. Surprisingly, Benedicto’s segment, while powerful, was dispensable for the storyline. Therefore, we decided to create another 3-minute mini-documentary about Benedicto and how he, a Mayan artist, contributes to his community. Other than this, substantial research and thorough pre-production groundwork ensured that the majority of the story aligned with our initial expectations.

Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this impact video: 

The most rewarding thing for me was when we were at the research stage, and Maria and Benedicto said, “I know that this [documentary] project will help us because more tourists will come, and more tourists means more money for us to support the local people with their necessities and medical expenses. “It’s the feeling of being trusted and the feeling that I can clearly feel that what I’m doing is worthwhile that motivates me.

What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

I would say to always try to embrace the evolution and unexpected changes we might have while we are making films because these unexpected narratives will enrich the filming experience and we might also find inspiration!

What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

After we had conducted the interview and finished the transcription, I always enjoyed reading through the interviews, deciding which parts to put in the film, and organizing them into a strong story. I love this part because I always get inspired by their stories while reading through their interviews, and I can piece the story together in the way that I feel the most powerful.

What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

A notebook and a pen. As a director, for the most part, I will need to talk to people. Therefore, taking a notebook with me not only helps me don’t miss out on any useful information but also makes the people that I’m talking with feel respected. Also, while interviewing, I can also make adjustments to questions that will be asked without interruption.

Please provide a brief description of the work or organization featured in your video:

This documentary will take you on an inspiring journey through the lives of Maria and Benedicto, two extraordinary individuals whose determination, resilience, and dedication have turned adversity into opportunity. Their Eco Spanish School, once a humble dream, has blossomed into a thriving success story, and beyond their own accomplishments, Maria and Benedicto are also passionate about and actively involved in giving back to their community of San Juan La Laguna.

Please share a personal story about your experience making this impact video:

After I returned from Guatemala and finished the post-production, I shared the documentary at my workplace, which was profound to me. A colleague left a comment, saying that they see “hope” in this video. I felt joy that’s different from any I have experienced before. Witnessing such emotional resonance affirmed the meaningful impact of our storytelling.

What do you want audiences to take away from this video?

I hope audiences to be inspired by them and see how strong “hope” and “belief” are in our lives, and I want them to witness “Everything is possible, as long as we start now” in Maria and Benedicto’s story.

Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion: 

First, some basic key points that need to be covered include: context, technical aspects, story structure, characters, as well as themes and messages. Aside from that, ethical considerations should also be included. In the end, there can also be an open Q&A session for peers.

What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

This documentary project is completed through Actuality Abroad, and they have documentary outreach programs in different countries such as Guatemala, Vietnam, and Morocco.

Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.) relevant to the context of the issue discussed in your video:

This documentary is about a couple who founded the Eco Spanish School and use most of their income to give back to the community they grew up in. To learn more about the Eco Spanish School, you can visit https://www.ecolanguages.net/. Also, the 3-minute-long mini-doc about Benedicto can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/847749520.


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