San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Monteverde Documentary Looks Beyond the Trees

Monteverde. You know the place: the feature page of the travel brochures. The cloud forest with trees that look older than time, or at least would do if you could see them through the dense, allenveloping mist. Wildlife that will enchant even the most urbane city slicker. The gold standard of Costa Rican ecotourism before ecotourism became such a goldmine.
Yet there is more to Monteverde than a forest. The story of the community in northcentral Costa Rica goes back more than half a century and has its roots in the U.S. state of Alabama and the courtroom of District Judge John McDuffey. Now, Monteverde resident and filmmaker Leonard Friedman has set about producing a documentary to recount the story of the town and its pioneering residents.
In 1948, as the Korean War loomed, lawmakers in the United States decided to reinstate the draft, a law requiring young men to register for military service. Four members of the Fairhope Meeting of Friends (Quakers) in Alabama, already concerned by the need to balance their pacifistic beliefs with an economy that was increasingly dependent on militarism, refused to sign up. They were arrested and, on Oct. 25, 1949, brought to trial.
Wilford Guindon, Howard Rockwell, Leonard Rockwell and Marvin Rockwell were sentenced to “a year and a day,” and served a third of that time. When passing judgment, Judge McDuffey told the men, “If you like this country you should obey the laws of this country, and if you don’t like it, you ought to move out.” So, following their release, that is exactly what they decided to do.
The settlers, however, still had to choose where to go. They discounted Canada as being too cold,Australia and New Zealand as too far away, and Mexico because of restrictions on foreigners owning property.
Then, following a tour to study agriculture in Central America, the group settled on Costa Rica, drawn by the country’s political stability and the fact that it had abolished its armed forces in 1948. They settled in Monteverde in 1951 and have never looked back.
In addition to welcoming thousands of tourists each year, the area is now a mecca for artists, scientists and everyone in between, all inspired by the area’s beauty and natural diversity, as well as the community’s commitment to sustainability that helps keep it that way.
A Community Affair
A film school graduate and former journalist, Friedman, 53, the man behind the documentary, said it was the “generosity, sincerity and values of my neighbors and friends” that persuaded him to chronicle the “exemplary” history of the town.
“As the world seems poised for violence, if not global war, I wanted to examine pacifism,” he told The Tico Times.
The project has not been without its challenges. Some are not too trying; Friedman said a major difficulty has been “trying to concentrate on the narrative – the natural beauty here can be overwhelming.”
A slightly more serious problem, especially with shooting taking place just at the end of the rainy season, has been the weather, with the wind and rain forcing several changes to the schedule.
Finally, the community itself had to be convinced of the worth of the project, as many residents were disinclined to “toot their own horn.” However, Friedman said that once their initial reluctance had been overcome, people “opened their doors, their hearts and their photo albums.”
True to the spirit of Monteverde’s founders, the film is set to be very much a community affair. Students from San José’s Veritas University, the first college in Central America to open a film school (TT, Dec. 21, 2007), are involved in the production effort, and Friedman said their contribution has been invaluable.
“The students … have been diligent, knowledgeable and eager to learn. It has been a privilege having them on board,”said Friedman, who went on to acknowledge the role of the university’s administrators, faculty and staff. “Film is a collaborative medium; I couldn’t have done this without help.”
Friedman remains very much the leader of the project, acting as producer and director for what he calls his “labor of love.” He is personally funding the project, and in his role as producer, he is responsible for organizing the crew and shooting schedule. On the other hand, as director, Friedman’s main responsibility is to be the creative force behind the film – that and “try to get the producer to increase the budget.”
The film, which has the working title “The Monteverde Project,” is being produced in both English and Spanish using high-definition video. Friedman hopes to have it edited by July and said he may submit it to various film festivals prior to an anticipated broadcast release.
It is an inspiring story and, with its central theme of man living in peace and in harmony with his surroundings, the documentary is sure to have a broad appeal, whatever its commercial future. Friedman, for one, seems happy with his work.
“I am certain it will bear fruit,” he said.

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