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November 23, 2000 Journalism students film jazz band in Mexico




Nothing prepared Sarah Govan for her first step off the plane in Mexico.

“The first thing that hits you is the heat, followed by the constant smell of exhaust fumes from the three million cars in Mexico City,”” she said. “It took a little getting used to.”

Govan, fellow student Pierre Sauvé and supervising professor Barry Conway went to Mexico City in November to spend 10 days filming the McGill University Big Band’s participation in Jazz 2000, a music festival in the small mountain town of San Miguel de Allende.

The settlement, three hours north of Mexico City, resembles a small village in the Italian countryside, Govan said. “The same cobble-stoned streets, colourful buildings, friendly people, and village square, where the residents come together at dusk, to talk, dance and enjoy the beautiful gardens.”

The two students and their professor filmed from four to seven hours a day. They conducted more than 30 interviews with band members, exploring their choice of jazz as a way of life.

They also had to lug equipment wherever they went, whether it was up a pyramid or down steep slopes. The band performed in three two-hour concerts, each of which had to be filmed in its entirety. They filmed Aztec pyramids, and a bullfight. Yes, Sarah said, the bull met its traditional fate.

“I don’t think I realized how much work actually went into documentary filmmaking,” she said. “Getting the right shot can take hours, but it’s worth it in the end.”

Not only did the students learn how to make a documentary in a remote location, but they also explored the Mexican way of life.

“For the seven days we were in San Miguel, the band, Pierre and I were billeted with expatriate Canadians and Americans, who live in beautiful houses on the hillsides. We were awakened every morning by a rooster’s crow, or by fireworks being lit to celebrate a festival, or the simple arrival of Sunday.

Now, “with fading tans and 20 hours of footage to weed through,” they’ve begun the editing process. By February, they and executive producer Peter Downie plan on completing a 30-minute documentary that they hope will be aired on a Canadian network.

“It’s wonderful that Concordia could have helped us with such a great opportunity like this,” Sarah said. “We can’t wait to finish the documentary to show everyone how beautiful Mexico was, and how interesting all the band members are.

“It also gave me a new appreciation for jazz. I haven’t been able to put down the band’s album since I got back.”