Baltazar en Nueva York, Part 1

Much has happened since the last post. I returned from Ecuador and settled in New York City. I am once again working full-time in post production – spending days and nights in a dark room tinkering away on films and tv shows that have yet to be seen. I commute on the subway with hundreds of thousands of other people every day. But Ecuador has not been forgotten – nor have the many great people that I met there. The projects that we started last year have been my personal escape back to South America. Videos and photographs, writings and scarves, memories of where the holes in my clothes were formed. The goal of our projects has always been about sharing experiences. Now, with the completion of our first project, a short documentary titled El Último Hielero (The Last Ice Merchant), we start what I hope is the beginning of a series of cultural exchanges.

El Último Hielero tells the story of Baltazar Ushca, the last ice merchant of Ecuador. Twice a week for over half a century, Baltazar has hiked up the slopes of Mount Chimborazo with his mules to harvest the natural glacial ice that covers the highest altitudes of the mountain. In the past, up to forty ice merchants made the journey weekly; today, however, Baltazar works alone. The goal of the documentary was to share a story of cultural change and indigenous lifestyle with people that would never otherwise have been introduced to it. It was important to me to portray the characters as the dignified people that they are and to show the very human story of their circumstances.

Well, the documentary is finished and El Último Hielero just completed its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. It wouldn’t have felt right to attend the festival alone while so many great people helped to make the film possible. In exploring ways to expand the cultural exchange of just watching the movie, it was immediately evident that Baltazar should come to New York to participate in the festival. It is all too simple to watch a movie and forget that the people in it are real, but Baltazar, standing in front of the film festival audience, could bring Ecuador to the theater! And for Baltazar, who has never been outside of Ecuador before, it would be a chance for a cultural exchange in the opposite direction as well as a symbol of my appreciation for all that he has done for me, the movie, and his community. And so, four days before our first screening, Baltazar, his daughter Carmen and our good friend Rodrigo Donoso boarded a flight in Quito headed to New York City.

I will be posting pictures of our time together in New York over the next week. I think we all walked away from this having learned a great deal and I’m looking forward to sitting down and writing it all out. Until then…

Baltazar, Carmen and Rodrigo arrive in New York.

Baltazar, Carmen and Rodrigo arrive in New York.

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Be a Part of El Último Hielero!

We are really excited about the progress of our short documentary, El Último Hielero. Production continues to progress and the footage is looking great. But the next step is quickly approaching: Post Production.

Shooting specialized shots at the base of Chimborazo.

Shooting specialized shots at the base of Chimborazo.

Baltazar making ropes through the monitor.

Baltazar making ropes through the monitor.

Soon I will return to New York City where the movie will have to be edited, scored, conformed, colored and mixed. Then we have to start submitting to film festivals.

I have started a Kickstarter project in order to help raise funds to complete the film. Kickstarter is a fundraising website for independent projects that allows anyone to contribute. In exchange for support, rewards are granted on a tiered basis. It’s a great idea and I’m hoping through this we can find a way to finish this movie and make it the best that it can be!

Kickstarter Logo

Please consider contributing to this documentary through our Kickstarter. Every dollar helps (and that just happens to be the minimum contribution!).

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cotopaxiproductions/el-ultimo-hielero-the-last-ice-merchant

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El Último Hielero: Week 1

We just finished shooting the first week of what will be the short documentary, El Último Hielero (The Last Ice Merchant). For a preview of what the ice merchant does, see this post. Rodrigo and I pitched tents in Cuatro Esquinas, the small, rural town where Baltazar, the ice merchant, lives so that we can live close to the families and be around all day to shoot, without wasting time traveling to and fro.

We started the shoot with Baltazar’s brother, Gregorio, who is an ex-ice merchant. Gregorio used to haul the huge blocks of ice down from the glacier on Chimborazo on the backs of mules and make his own ice cream from basic ingredients like fruit and sugar, but he stopped when sales for traditional glacial ice cream declined and supplies grew too expensive. Now he sells factory-made ice cream. However, Gregorio agreed to show us how he used to make the ice cream. We followed Gregorio for two days as he travelled to Riobamba to buy ingredients and demonstrate the making of ice cream from blocks of ice.

Shooting on a Condor bus en route to Riobamba.

Shooting on a Condor bus en route to Riobamba.

Video Still: On a bus to Riobamba.

Video Still: On a bus to Riobamba.

The first day’s shoot following Gregorio began on the Condor Bus, the main mode of transportation from Cuatro Esquinas to Riobamba. Music blasts from the speakers, and different buses are decorated with different color schemes; the décor of the Condor Bus included swanky red upholstery and curtains that could come straight from a bordello.

The ice factory in Riobamba.

The ice factory in Riobamba.

Gregorio often buys blocks of ice from the ice factory, where the large blocks are frozen underneath the floorboards. The ice factory owner gave us a tour, along with a basic rundown of how the ice is made.

The produce market in Riobamba.

The produce market in Riobamba.

We then headed to the produce market where Gregorio buys blackberries to flavor the ice cream. The market is expansive with mounds of fruits and vegetables of all different shapes and colors and sizes.

Video Still: An ice cream shop in Riobamba.

Video Still: An ice cream shop in Riobamba.

Video Still: Gregorio buys ice cream cones.

Video Still: Gregorio buys ice cream cones.

And then to an ice cream shop to pick up 300 cones.

Video Still: Gregorio prepares the ice cream base.

Video Still: Gregorio prepares the ice cream base.


This is Gregorio’s old workshop. Here he processes his ingredients to make the blackberry base for the ice cream.

Gregorio cleans the ice from the factory.

Gregorio cleans the ice from the factory.

Video Still: Gregorio churns ice cream in a wooden barrel.

Video Still: Gregorio churns ice cream in a wooden barrel.

Video Still: Ice cream starts to form.

Video Still: Ice cream starts to form.

Outside, Gregorio prepares the ice, cleaning and crushing it. He then loads the crushed ice into a large wooden barrel in which a metal tube is placed with the ice cream base. By spinning the metal tube and stirring the mixture occasionally with a large metal spoon, the fruity red liquid slowly begins to freeze. Eventually the magic and delectable product emerges: blackberry ice cream!

Video Still: Gregorio and his delivery bicycle.

Video Still: Gregorio and his delivery bicycle.

Video Still: Gregorio sells his ice cream in town for 15 cents.

Video Still: Gregorio sells his ice cream in town for 15 cents.

Video Still: A man buys ice cream from Gregorio.

Video Still: A man buys ice cream from Gregorio.

Gregoria then loads the entire wooden barrel of ice and ice cream on his bicycle, and peddles about town, selling ice cream one cone at a time. He honks the horn on his bike to get the attention of passers-by.

Transferring footage at night.

Transferring footage at night.

Every night, in Cuatro Esquinas, I transfer the day’s film footage from camera to computer. Having scoured the area for adequate cables, Rodrigo was able to splice electricity to an outlet in Gregorio’s old workshop. This is where we finish every night, transferring footage by candlelight.

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New Project: El Último Hielero

I’m very pleased to announce that we have started yet another project. I am in the beginning stages of shooting a short documentary called El Último Hielero, or The Last Ice Merchant.

To explore the rapid generational changes within indigenous communities, I’m following a man named Baltazar, who is known here as the last ice merchant. Twice a week for the last 55 years he has trekked over 10 km to the fossilized glaciers on Chimborazo—to an altitude of about 16,000 feet—with his donkeys. There he hacks away at ice, breaks it into blocks, wraps it in hay and brings it back down to store in a hole in the ground so that he can sell it at the Saturday market for $2.50 a piece.

I followed Baltazar for two days last week to shoot preliminary footage and am coordinating time to head over for an extended period. Following is a promo video to show what exactly he does as a hielero.



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