Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac School alumnus, social justice advocate, and filmmaker James Baumann has released his latest documentary Stories of Conflict, which graphically depicts the experiences of several survivors of the 52 years of civil war in Colombia.
During the course of the Colombian conflict, more than six million people were displaced from their homes and 220,000 killed by guerrilla, paramilitary, or criminal groups.
“Stories of Conflict is a short documentary that gives a voice to people who have been affected by the civil war in Colombia,” says Baumann. “Survivors tell their stories of tragedy, survival, and hope.
“The film portrays people who have been displaced and are being gradually reintegrated back into society through foundations and government aid.”
Interest in a Communications Career Began at Saint Jeanne’s
While a student at Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac school in Temecula, Baumann became interested in communications as a member of the school newspaper, which was supervised by faculty advisor Sister Sharon Maria Lamprecht, ODN. This experience allowed him to become a ‘teen” reporter for The Press-Enterprise. His first story for the newspaper was published in 2001 and was about the school’s newly formed basketball teams. He went on to cover the X Games, an extreme sports competition, for The Press-Enterprise for several years. He also began developing an interest in filmmaking during this time.
A Social Justice Advocate is Born
Baumann earned his B.A. in Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts from San Francisco State University. While there, he became increasingly interested in social justice issues and produced “The Street Sheet,” a film about the long-published newspaper produced by the San Francisco homeless and “The Edgewood Center,” the story of a school for adolescents that are struggling with challenges in their lives. He was also selected to travel with a group of young filmmakers to Tanzania, where he produced and directed “Tumaini Junior School,” which concerns a rural school that consistently achieves national recognition for its high academic achievements.
Though he was among the first alumni to graduate from Saint Jeanne’s, Baumann maintained his connection with the school and its founders, the Sisters of the Company of Mary, throughout the years. This international order focuses on education and has founded schools throughout the world.
The Urge to Travel Leads to Colombia
In 2015, Baumann spoke with Sister Ernestine Velarde, ODN, President of Saint Jeanne’s, about the possibility of teaching at one of the Company of Mary schools in Latin America. Two months later, he arrived in Barranquilla, Colombia and began teaching communication classes at Colegio la Enseñanza Barranquilla. He set up a film studio for the students that allowed them to both express themselves creatively through video production and improve their English language skills.
Baumann lived in the Jesuit community in Barranquilla for the two years that he taught at the school, which gave him the opportunity to work with those living in poverty. While in Colombia, he produced several films exploring the economic and social divisions in the country, as well as the long-term effects of the Colombian Conflict.
The Making of “Stories of Conflict”
“Because social justice films are traditionally low budget, I relied on the support of the schools and foundations that I was working with,” says Baumann.
He recruited and trained his production crews from both his students and members of the communities where he was filming. “The crews showed enormous talent and enthusiasm for filmmaking. I think that cinema is an industry that could be successfully expanded in the country with the right support,” says Baumann.
One of the communities where Baumann conducted his interviews is Nueva Esperanza. Social work within the community is supported by the Fundación Germen de Paz, an organization founded by the Sisters of the Company of Mary to serve the needy in Colombia.
Interviewed in the film, Asteria Díaz spoke about the murder of her husband during a raid by the paramilitary.
“He was shot twice in the head. My son turned his body over. I cleaned his face because it was covered in blood. I mean, I got desperate, I didn’t want to see him lying there so I told my son, ‘Come on, let’s take him.’ He lifted my husband up…and his blood poured out. I put a T-shirt on his head. All his blood poured down my arm, still warm.”
The Stories of Conflict Foundation
In honor of his social justice work, Baumann was given the inaugural Earth Citizen Award at a recent event held by St. Jeanne’s to commemorate its 25th anniversary. To help the poor and displaced in Colombia, Baumann has set up the Stories of Conflict Foundation, a grassroots, nonprofit organization to help provide education, food, and housing. He is working with the Fundación Germen de Paz on this project.
For more information about the foundation and the opportunity to view the related film, visit www.storiesofconflict.com.