Countless posters and fliers cover bulletin boards across Drexel’s campus. Kaila Taylor admits she rarely glances at the board in her department. But one day she did, and it led to a life-changing experience.
For Taylor, a master’s student in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design television management program, the poster that caught her eye was promoting an opportunity to produce a short documentary during a month-long study abroad experience. She applied and was accepted, and late last month she returned from a trip to Quito, Ecuador, where she served as the director of a documentary about a single mother working to support her two children.
“I kind of took a leap and applied for it,” Taylor said. “I’m so glad I looked at that poster on the bulletin board, which I rarely ever do.”
The trip came courtesy of Actuality Media, an organization devoted to documentary filmmaking about people spurring social change in developing parts of the world. She spent four weeks in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador with a population of 1.6 million, as part of a four-person film crew: a director, a producer, a cinematographer and an editor.
Four weeks may sound like a long time, but for a crew that small trying to produce a polished film from scratch, even an eight-minute one, it makes for a furious whirlwind.
“It was a tough job, but it’s rewarding,” said Taylor.
Taylor’s crew was one of three, and each was sent to a different organization in Quito to find a documentary subject. Her team went to the Center for the Working Girl — or CENIT, derived from the organization’s name in Spanish — which provides occupational training and other services for girls from low-income families. The team had about two weeks to figure out what its story would be and do some research, a week to film and a week to edit its footage into a film.
Their first mission was to find a person to serve as their protagonist. They found their answer when they encountered a boy who was visiting his mother, a woman named Silvia who worked at CENIT but was very shy.
“Her son comes out and says, ‘I want to introduce my mom to you. My mom’s the greatest mom ever. She’s so nice and she’s so sweet,’ ” Taylor said. “He’s only 8. We thought, man, this must be an amazing woman.”
Taylor and her crew learned that Silvia had been a student at the center as a young girl coming from a poor household, learning how to sew. Now she worked there to support her two children, after triumphing over a kidney condition that had nearly killed her earlier in her life. She also worked nights at a factory, with a dream of someday opening her own workshop to sell clothes.
“I work to help my children succeed,” Silvia says in the documentary.
The students’ film tells Silvia’s story against the backdrop of the natural beauty and poverty and crime present in Quito.
“Ecuador is a beautiful country,” Taylor said. “But there’s beauty, and there’s ugly, which is the poverty.”
One day, Taylor and her colleagues took a group of children to a park. They’d been at a nearby market, working there to help support their families. Used to days full of work, they relished having some fun.
“The kids there, they run up to you and they want to sit in your lap and they want to hug you,” Taylor said.
On their final day in Ecuador, the students got the chance to premiere their film at a café, with people from CENIT in attendance. The group’s finished documentary will be shared soon on the Actuality Media website.
Thanks to her willingness to jump at an opportunity she found on a bulletin board, Taylor, who hopes to become a casting director after she completes her degree, came away not just with a polished, emotionally affecting film on her resume, but also a new perspective on the rest of the world.
“I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything,” she said.