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Filmmakers work on Mortality of Dreams in the jungles of Peru.

The Arts

Hanging on to a dream

In her new film, Brattleboro filmmaker Angela Snow tells how a determined doctor got a hospital built in a remote corner of Peru

BRATTLEBORO—What are the consequences of obsessing over a dream in order to leave a legacy?

Brattleboro-based filmmaker Angela Snow considers this question in her newest documentary, Mortality of Dreams, about a passionate, 81-year-old retired cardiologist who attempts to construct a hospital in Peru in memory of his mother.

“Dr. Luis Vasquez dreams of a state-of-the-art and volunteer-run hospital which will provide health care for all,” Snow says. “The catch? It will be over 600 miles from Lima, in his mother’s home village.”

In the middle of nowhere Peru, Vasquez hurries to leave his legacy before he dies.

Filmed over a period of 10 years with annual visits to Peru by Snow, Mortality of Dreams follows the construction of the hospital and offers an intimate portrait of Vasquez and a jungle village as they both undergo transformations.

“In the bigger picture, the film is about much more than a mere building,” Snow says. “‘This documentary deals with issues of global health, volunteerism, sustainable design, economic inequalities, and Latin American heritage.”

Mortality of Dreams was directed and produced by Snow, who also worked the second camera on the production.

A cameraman based in Los Angeles, Josh Gibson was the cinematographer and did the sound. Post-production editing was assisted by Lila Place, who got her start in the editing rooms of Woody Allen and Spike Lee. As an editor, Place has worked on numerous films that have won awards at top film festivals.

Snow will screen Mortality of Dreams at The Stone Church at 210 Main St., on Thursday, Oct. 11, at 6 p.m. Following the 80-minute film, there will be a Q&A with the filmmaker. As a special bonus, the event also will offer free sausages from Vermont Packinghouse (plus a veggie option) and a cash bar. There is a $10 suggested donation, but any amount will get you in the door.

A 10-year project

This is the second feature film by Angela Snow. A documentary filmmaker based out of Vermont and New York City, in 2013, she completed her first feature documentary on circus around the world, World Circus.

After picking up a distributor from the film festival circuit, where it proved to be a great hit, the film is currently available worldwide on iTunes and other video-on-demand platforms.

Born in Brattleboro, Snow regularly travels the world while working in reality TV and film, but she has recently returned to her roots, buying a house in Brattleboro.

Snow has been working on Mortality of Dreams for 10 years. Each year, Snow would go down to Peru to continue the project; photographer Josh Gibson went even more often, 13 times.

The project began shortly after Snow graduated from Columbia College in Chicago, where she studied filmmaking.

“Like all aspiring filmmakers, after school I moved to Los Angeles to get into the movie business.” she says. “However, like so many others, I found myself spending too much time just trying to make a living.”

Snow then came up with an idea to combine profitable work and filmmaking. In 2005, she founded To the Moon Productions to make promotional videos for travel companies (“It was a way to travel and not go broke,” she confesses).

“Not long after this got off the ground, I received a call from Luis Vasquez who ran a tour company,” she says.

Vasquez flew Snow down to Peru to make a travel video for his company. While there, he also invited her to visit his mother’s village where he was starting to construct a hospital, 600 miles from Lima.

Although at the time virtually nothing was begun on the hospital, Snow was fascinated by the project, and saw it as a great subject for a documentary.

Obstacles — and an inspiration

Little did she realize how long it would take before either the hospital or the film would reach completion.

“It was not my fault the film took so long,” Snow says. “The hospital took 10 years to build and we wanted to follow it through to the end. There were many obstacles along the way. Sometimes it felt crazy taking so long with one project, but I was in so deep that after a while I thought it wrong to turn back.

“Besides, Luis was such an inspiration. Beyond the construction of the building, what became fascinating was watching Luis get doctors and universities involved with what he was trying to do for global health.”

In many ways, the hospital is the story of one man’s obsession.

Mortality of Dreams follows a hero’s journey,” writes Snow in a news release. “This could have been a simple feel-good volunteer hospital video, but I wanted to make a cinematic movie to connect with audiences on a deep personal level, questioning individuals’ dreams and what can be accomplished in a lifetime.”

Snow found Vasquez to be a complex character and she wanted to take the audience on a journey of doubt versus admiration for him.

“Originally, of course, this was never planned as a 10-year, epic journey,” Snow writes, “but as Dr. Vasquez’s passion for his new nonprofit in his mother’s home village grew, we continued to return year after year.

“Luis’s contagious energy and belief in following your dreams kept my burning need to tell this story lit all these years. I am thrilled to have my second feature film ready to show the world. In film school, I directed make-believe narratives, now I tell real-life stories that seem make-believe.”

The power of one

Snow believes her documentary addresses numerous themes.

“First and foremost, this is a movie about following your dreams,” Snow writes.

She believes the film explores how one person can have an impact, as Vasquez follows the consequences of decisions to find out what can be accomplished in his final years of life.

”With struggling health care systems and global health epidemics, Luis’s story is important, timely, and needs attention,” Snow says. “This is the tale of Latin heritage and returning to one’s roots. Mortality of Dreams is unique in capturing the transformation of a town, unchanged for 100 years, held back by government, as it learns to make changes on its own.”

Snow believes that immersing oneself in a new culture is the dream of many. “This film takes viewers inside the tiny Peruvian village and its people and tells the story of the many international volunteers,” she says.

Proud of the film that has taken so much time and money to complete, Snow contends that getting a film made requires a lot of capital — and that means fundraising.

“Luis was very helpful,” Snow says. “He paid our way to Peru each year, and employed us to make promotional videos for his hospital. While we did not make any money doing this, it certainly helped keep us from losing money while working on the film.

“Nonetheless, we definitely needed financial help during the expensive post-production phase of the film, That was how supportive events, like the one at Hermit Thrush Brewery in Brattleboro, really helped.

“We also had a successful online fundraising campaign at Seed & Spark that raised $10,000 for this project. I am thankful for the many people who helped Mortality of Dreams finally get completed.”

Rather than take her documentary through the traditional route of film festivals, Snow plans to tour the film at sites that are concerned about issues of global health. There she hopes to screen Mortality of Dreams and engage in a dialogue with her audiences about questions the film raises.

People seem interested. In December, she will be appearing with her film at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and shortly after that Snow will travel to Australia to show her film at a seminar on Global Health.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #478 (Wednesday, September 26, 2018). This story appeared on page B1.

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