Learning From the Experiences of Others – A Review of “Living on One Dollar”

I’ve always enjoyed living vicariously through documentary filmmakers who put themselves at some sort of risk to tell a story. But I felt a sense of apprehension about watching Living on One Dollar, an hour-long film that follows four American college students who embark on an eight-week long journey to live among locals in rural Guatemala. My premonitions about Living on One Dollar were due, largely in part, to cynical feelings I have toward well-off people that travel to poor countries looking, however innocuously, to “experience” them.

I was also expecting there to be a bit of an uncomfortable tension in listening to privileged white adolescents pondering rural poverty. That prediction, it turns out, was a clairvoyant one. But by the time the credits were rolling I was glad I had taken the time to watch Living on One Dollar. In addition to being fluently edited and full of beautiful cinematography, the film also brought to light two important notions. These ideas, I think, are particularly relevant to today’s increasingly poverty-stricken world:

1) Tight-knit communities of generous and hardworking people can be a powerful force to combat poverty.

Living on One Dollar takes place in the rural foothills of Peña Blanca, a small community of generous and industrious people who embody a sense of shared responsibility. This connectedness, especially when it comes to problem solving in dire circumstances, is ultimately what holds their lives together.

2) The human condition transcends cultural and socioeconomic differences.

The bond formed between the filmmakers and the locals is moving and serves as a reminder how the human condition is felt worldwide. Both the filmmakers and the locals are from drastically different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Despite these differences, the Pena Blañcans welcome the filmmakers into their lives, sharing with them their experiences and perspectives. The locals also teach the filmmakers valuable cooking and farming techniques. As a result, the filmmakers are able to overcome health, economic, and comfort-related hardships.

I’ll be the first to admit that going to such lengths for artistic purposes is a feat that I will never endeavor to accomplish. For this reason I am unable to be too critical of Living on One Dollar. Where I would have caved immediately, the filmmakers persevere—they never dip into emergency funds when they are hungry, and they don’t call it quits amidst cases of flea infestations. It is not just how committed the filmmakers are, though, that makes the film substantive. For those streaming Living on One Dollar from the comfort of their own homes, the film serves as an educational experience. You can learn more about the film and the non-profit the filmmakers created at http://livingonone.org/livingonone/.

Aidan Hayward is a senior honors student, who is majoring in Political Science.