After attending school in the mornings, Jovelyn helps her parents and her four brothers dig through garbage in a slum near Manila, the Philippines, searching for recyclable items to sell or barter so the family has food to eat.
Jovelyn, 16, wants to be a nurse. But for now she “lives under a freeway bridge above a canal that empties into the Bay of Manila,” according to press materials, including a film trailer, for The Fourth World.
The 54-minute, Dordt College Prairie Grass Productions documentary just won an Indie Award of Excellence from the prestigious, California-based Indie Fest.
The film documenting life in slums on three continents was made by Dordt College digital media professor Mark Volkers and some of his students at the college in Sioux Center, Iowa.
“This is a film made by Christians to get people thinking,” says Volkers. “We hope it is an eye-opening look at global poverty . . . We ignore this social powder keg at our own peril.”
The Fourth World has also been entered in several other film fests from Iowa to Hong Kong. Since some of the competitions require that a film cannot be in distribution in order for it to be judged, the documentary won’t be available until all of the competitions are over, probably later this year.
Winning the Indie Award of Excellence, however, will help in promotion once they are able to start the process of distributing the documentary to theaters, Internet websites and other venues around the world, says Volkers.
Indie awards go to filmmakers who produce fresh, high-quality entertainment, animation and compelling documentaries.
“The Indie is not an easy award to win,” said Thomas Baker, coordinator of the awards. Hundreds of films from many countries were entered in the competition. “The goal of the Indie is to help winners achieve the recognition they deserve.”
The Fourth World highlights a few people who are part of the mass of humanity who live in seething slums and are caught up in the largest human migration the world has ever seen from the countryside to the city, says Volkers.
The United Nations estimates that one billion people live, like Jovelyn and her family, hidden away in slums. This number could explode into three billion people in years to come.
Volkers knows firsthand that there are incredibly few people living in slums who have a romantic, rags-to-riches story to tell.
But “by diving into the slums” Volkers and his students found among those they filmed a reslient spirit and an ability, despite incredible odds, to get by.
“Each of the slums we shot in is filled with incredible stories of joy, perseverance, and heroism,” says Volkers.
Besides Joveyn’s story in the Philippines, Volkers and his students feature stories out of Guatemla City, one of which is about Tanya, who was shot in the spinal cord at 15. She needs to beg for resources from a street corner in her wheelchair so she and her ailing father can live.
The documentary also features Felix, 16, who lives in one of the worst slums of Nairobi, Kenya. He spends his time between going to school and selling maize in the slum alleyways to help support his family.
In addition to the stories captured for The Fourth World, students produced several, smaller pro bono pieces for organizations that work among the world’s poorest people.
“The experience was life-changing for students by being able to use their Christian faith to make a difference,” says Volkers.
The experience of working in the cramped, sprawling, smelly slums of the Fourth World was for Volkers and his students, he says, “a two-way street as one challenged the other to see things in new ways, to respond to one another in new ways. Seeing the Fourth World through fresh eyes was a privilege.”
Volkers served as a missionary in Africa for seven years and was the communications director for Christian Reformed World Missions before coming to Dordt College.
Volkers and his students are now editing footage they took showing the work of CRWM in Mexico.
To learn more about Prairie Grass Productions and the digital media productions program at Dordt College, visit www.dordt.edu/media.