Making the Most on Film

Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.

The women and a few men in the line look calm and hopeful. Most of their children, dark brown eyes wide with curiosity, bear signs that the poor of Mexico often believe is punishment for sins past: a cleft lip, an ugly scar, a burn mark.

Gina Vecchione ’97 and her sister, Ané, grew up hearing about these children from their father, Dr. Thomas Vecchione ’63. They also heard about the trips he and other volunteer members of the Mercy Outreach Surgical Team made to correct some of these medical and surgical problems. So in October 1999, the sisters went with the MOST team on one of its two yearly trips to Mexico and got it on film.

“I wanted to do something that’s meaningful,” says Gina, “and give something back to our father.” The result was a 25-minute documentary, Trip to Tehuacan. The film was the “audience choice” award winner at the 2001 Long Beach Film Festival, which highlights “films that present a positive contribution to our [entertainment] industry and society.” It also aired at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

The short documentary presents four out of the 240 cases handled by the San Diego-based MOST doctors, surgeons and nurses during their five-day visit. For viewers, watching the surgical repair of a cleft lip on baby Javier can be a bit grisly, but it’s the parents’ emotional response to such surgeries that shines though the film.

Even the Mercy Hospital volunteers are affected, often joining the parents in tears of happiness. “The team is so dedicated to what they are doing,” says Gina.

The backbone of the film is Gina and Ané’s father. “He is such a storyteller,” says Gina. “He would talk about [the trips] all the time.”

The sisters and assistant Julie Stivers returned from the trip with 15 hours of film. When Ané, the cinematographer, moved back to California from New York, the work of scripting and editing and finding music began. The sisters didn’t always agree on what to include. “My dad had to mediate between us,” Gina says with a laugh. In the end, however, “It was a great bonding experience for us.”

Bonding was necessary, given the close quarters. The two did a lot of the work in Gina’s cramped apartment in Venice, California. “For a month, we ate fried fish sandwiches,” she notes wryly.

Since Sundance, the sisters have received numerous requests to enter other festivals in the United States and Canada. And, notes the self-employed Gina, “It helps in my job search as a freelance editor.”

Carol Schaal is the managing editor of this magazine.