There are no paid actors in The Fourth World. These are everyday people who agreed to tell their stories to help others understand what it’s like to live in such conditions.
In the Philippines, the Alquino family graciously welcomed us to their home under the bridge in greater Metro Manila. Between the roar of the boats going in the channel below, and the rumble of traffic just a few feet over our heads, we were able to hear their story and get a glimpse of their lives over the one week we spent with them. Corrie DeBoer, a lovely Filipina married to a Dutch American, and Ronnel Severa helped us find the Alquinos. You don’t just fly into one of the largest cities in the world, pick a bridge and hope to find people who will let you observe them for a week. It takes connections. Corrie and Ronnel were crucial in telling this story.
In Guatemala, Tanya and Salma both gave us their time so we could understand the perspective of someone who lives in La Limonada. Tita Evertsz—who has spent more than a decade working in La Limonada—was absolutely instrumental in helping us meet these two women and getting them to trust us enough to tell their stories. Our interview with Selma was mind blowing. The cameras ran for one-and-a-half hours straight—the longest interview I’ve ever conducted. Her story is so harrowing that a documentary film could be made just on her life. Without Joel VanDyke, we never would have met Tita. Joel’s many years of work among the poor of Guatemala City is the subject of another documentary called “Reparando.” I highly recommend it.
In Kenya we spent a week with Felix Ochieng, a young man who works hard selling maize to not only help his family survive, but to enable him to pay school fees so he can continue to study. His parents were at a funeral outside of Nairobi when we were there, so he and his older sister, Wyni, were left alone in that dangerous slum. Hiking through the mud and filth of Mathare Valley with him at 4 a.m. gave us an insight into his daily life. Daniel and Magdaline Ogutu—friends of the producer since 1985—let us enter Mathare Valley under their care. The peoples’ respect for the Ogutus was transferred to our crew. We were able to operate with great freedom because of them. Just a month earlier, a different crew tried to enter the slum at the same place as us and was quickly run out for fear of their lives. Having friends like the Ogutus is priceless.
Having a dozen people on one crew is way too many people when you’re working in the close quarters of a slum, so on these trips, our college students broke up into small teams of about three per team. We laid the ground work months in advance for each team to spend about a week with a Christian NGO to help them develop promotional material to help advance their work. While a few students worked with Volkers on The Fourth World, the rest worked on helping an NGO tell their story and promote their work among the poor. The end result is that not only are we able to produce The Fourth World, but we have also produced several smaller pro bono pieces to help those organizations that are doing excellent work among some of the world’s poorest people.
Traveling with college students to shoot in some of the most impoverished places on earth was a rare treat not just for the producer, but for the people we encountered on the way. With the world as small as it is, a 20-year-old American can very quickly find common ground with a 20-year-old Kenyan or Guatemalan or Indian or whatever the country may be. It was 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.
Mark Volkers lived among the Luo people of Kenya for seven years and speaks their language fluently. He spent another decade as a photojournalist and documentary film maker in more than 20 different countries. He has won numerous awards—both national and international—for his work. In 2005, Mark began teaching digital media production at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa. Mark and Janelle live in Orange City, Iowa. They have three children.
Prairie Grass Productions—a production company affiliated with Dordt College—is behind The Fourth World. Prairie Grass Productions recently wrapped up a 10-part travel series in India, a shoot in Senegal, Mexico, the Mississippi Delta and a host of other locations. Contact them for your national and international production needs.
Dordt College, while not an official sponsor of the documentary, is a strong supporter. The Andreas Center, a grant-issuing body that is part of Dordt College, gave key grants to help produce The Fourth World.