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Teacher Making Documentary on Life in Puerto Vallarta

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August 1, 2017

Sebastian Alvarez Hernandez and Brett Schwartz take a break from filming in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Chicago - Pedro is a 19-year-old server in a Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, hotel restaurant who is about to enter college. He hopes to purchase a car for his family with his earnings.

Pedro's story is one of several captured by Deerfield High School teacher and Highland Park resident Brett Schwartz in his documentary film about people's lives captured during a 10-day stay in Puerto Vallarta.

An award-winning filmmaker who teaches video and film production at Deerfield, Schwartz said his latest effort was commissioned by the Highland Park Sister Cities Foundation to help tell people more about Puerto Vallarta, one of Highland Park's three sister cities, beyond its status as a tourist destination.

"We want to tell a story about the people," Schwartz said. "We wanted to show the different layers of society. Everybody is aware of the five-star hotels but it's very different from what you see four miles away."

Meeting Pedro through a manager of one of the hotels, Schwartz and Mexican filmmaker Sebastian Alvarez Hernandez captured images of his work at the hotel and then followed him home where he lives with his parents and siblings. Schwartz said he teamed with Hernandez for the effort.

"We wanted to show authentic family life to an American audience," Schwartz said. "They welcomed us into their home. We showed them as a family..."

Along with Pedro's story, Schwartz and Hernandez filmed Jorge Zambrano. Born in California, Zambrano arrived in his family's native Puerto Vallarta more than 30 years ago and now leads a restaurateur trade association.


Not only does he cook in his restaurant, but Schwartz said Zambrano goes to a neighborhood called the Dump on a regular basis to cook. The neighborhood is named as such because of the ever present garbage, some of which people comb through for food, according to Schwartz.

A woman portrayed in the film teaches yoga and Pilates. She has lived in the United States as well as Mexico. Not only is she working with tourists to help them live a healthier lifestyle, Schwartz said she is getting the opportunity to do the same with members of her community.

Hernandez, who had made a pair of short films that have been shown in Mexican film festivals, said the movie is important because the story of his community is not often told. Like Schwartz, he wants people to know what is beyond the luxury of the hotels.

Schwartz said he expects the movie to be ready by the end of October. He said it will have a place in the schools and other spots within the community.

Carol Wolfe, president of the Highland Park Sister Cities Foundation, said she wants it to educate people about the needs of Puerto Vallarta. "We want people to know what is going on there," Wolfe said. "This is all about building bridges between cultures. Most people only see what the tourists see. We have a lot in common and we want people to see what is outside the walls of the luxury hotels."

Schwartz, Wolfe and Hernandez are on the same page with the message.

"We need to understand that there are more things that unify us than we believe," Hernandez said. "I am sure film is the best medium to express this idea."

Read the full article written by Steve Sadin, a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press, at ChicagoTribune.com.