Translated by Sara Sandoval
The collaboration of Ambulante volunteers is essential for the festival to take place in all the different states each year. But, what does a volunteer do and how do they experience the festival? Omar Jasso –who has been a volunteer in four editions of Ambulante (from 2015 to date), shares his experience in an interview.
What work have you done in your four editions as a volunteer?
In 2015 and 2016 the scheme was different from the one that they implemented last year, in which we focus more on different areas. So, the first two years, I worked in the venues, and since last year, I’ve been in the production area. I have always worked in Mexico City.
How did you find out about the call for volunteers for the first time?
It all happened little by little. In 2014 and 2015, I no longer had responsibilities with the university or a job, so I started participating as a volunteer in open calls for different festivals.
I really liked being able to get to know the structure of the festivals from the inside.
I already knew about Ambulante and had gone several times as an attendant. Documentary cinema and the type of films Ambulante exhibits had always attracted me. Then, I found out I could be a volunteer via Facebook and their website. I sent my information and went through the selection process.
How does the selection process work?
It has always been very similar. First, you fill out an online form (in Google Docs) in which you put your info, your interests, what is your favorite documentary or the one that has marked you the most, etc. After that, they call you in for an interview where you get to know the team closely and they ask you what you would like to do, at what stage your studies are, how available you are, and things like that.
How’s the training process for the volunteers?
It usually starts with several meetings. First, they introduce to us the whole staff and the different areas such as administration, programming, production, etcetera, in order to get to know the family that Ambulante is.
Afterwards, they teach us the activities that we are going to carry out: matters like what to do at Cinépolis, at what time we have to arrive to the venues, what to do if a problem arises, how to handle film copies, what the different sections of Ambulante are, and a little bit about each film in the program. Broadly speaking, we familiarize with everything that shapes Ambulante.
An important part of volunteering, especially if you are in the venues, is to be able to offer something to the attendees, not just a good service or a smile, but to talk with them and guide them about the programming, according to their interests. Therefore, it is essential to know all the sections of the festival. You do not have to learn the technical sheet of each film, but it is necessary to have a minimal notion –see the trailers, read the synopsis– so you can say something to the attendees and attract more people. In my experience at the venues, people arrived and did not have the slightest idea of what Ambulante was, so I explained to them. A part that I find very satisfying is to show someone something different or something that they would not normally see in a commercial movie theater. Also, I like to interact with people that I might not otherwise have known.
Can volunteers watch the festival movies before it starts?
Sure. In Mexico City, we are invited to all press screenings, which have different venues. This year, they were in a Cinépolis complex and at Cineteca Nacional. We can always watch the movies. And it is very important to see them before the festival starts, because once it starts there are other responsibilities to fulfill.
What is a working day like for an Ambulante volunteer?
They are very intense. Since last year, I’ve been helping the production area and I can tell you, for example, what the opening day was like: Usually, the screenings are made in public squares and in 2017, it was at the Monumento a la Revolución. We had to arrive in advance to set up the chairs. Normally, the screen is already up, but we had to remove the packing from the chairs and settle them. Then, the public begins to arrive and we help to seat them. The screenings in public squares are very nice because people start to come and ask, “What’s going to happen? What are you going to screen?” So it’s a great way to attract attendees and get them to know Ambulante. That’s when we present to them the festival’s brochure and we give more information about it. Later, we help at the opening party controlling the access: we have to arrange how people are going to get in, check that they have the right invitation and we have to be very politically correct, because these are private events and we cannot always let everyone in.
I also like very much the special events. Two years ago, in Nevado de Toluca and last year, in Los Dinamos. There, I also had to arrive early to load, mount, identify the areas where the camp would be, place the banners and help as much as possible. It’s all about helping in what they ask you to and being proactive. In a space so big, you have to be careful with people: that they will not fall, that they will not leave, that they know the spaces in which they can camp and we have to learn to communicate in an attentive way, because in the end, they are the guests. These screenings are very extreme because weather conditions can affect many things. For example, at first, the weather was fine but then, the cold was too intense. Also, there was some fear because we thought it was going to rain, but nothing happened. That event on the mountain was exhausting, but it was a very satisfying experience. It is one of the many memories that I have of Ambulante, participating in outdoor screenings a bit extreme, but very pleasant. On that occasion, the last documentary ended at about three in the morning and there were people who stayed to see it. It was very cool to see this warrior side of the people; it was very cold, but there they were – covered with a lot of blankets.
What do you like most about volunteering with Ambulante?
I love the contact with people: recommending films to them, talking to them, inviting them.
Most of the time, people only want to be heard and, although it is not strictly our job, it is part of the dialogue we engage with them. It is very enriching, everyone will always teach you something.
What can you take from this experience?
On the one hand, to understand the titanic work involved in making a festival in every single stage. It is important to measure all the efforts and all the hands that have to be moved so that people enjoy documentary cinema and the festival. That enriches me as a person and also professionally, knowing that I have that experience of volunteering in a festival as big as Ambulante.
On the other hand, there is the content of the documentaries. I think that the selection of Ambulante is very good and it always adapts to the context or specific situations. I have seen documentaries that have left a mark on me that perhaps, at the moment, they are not the most in vogue, but that over time, remain relevant. For example, now “La libertad del diablo” (dir. Everardo González) is commercially released, but I had the opportunity to see it before in Ambulante; that has happened to me with many great documentaries. Being a volunteer in Ambulante is an experience of growing as a person. I really like to acquire knowledge on the world and about my identity, and that’s what the documentaries of Ambulante and Ambulante have given me in general.