Before the days of iPods, televisions, and even radio or mass print publications, humans entertained themselves and each other by telling stories. In small groups around campfires, communities would tell each other the stories of their past and present. Fastforward to the 21st century, and Argentinean filmmaker Daniel Burmeister seems to have resurrescted this spirit. In The Peddler, directors Eduardo de la Serna, Lucas Marcheggiano, and Adriana Yurcovich follow Burmeister, who makes his living traveling from town to town in Argentina, offering to make a film using locals as actors and the town as a set. All he asks is that the town gives him food and lodging; he makes money from ticket sales and selling copies of the film.
The documentary watches him make one of these films over a month in a village in Cordoba. Burmeister is likely the most inventive do-it-yourself, grassroots filmmaker working today. Armed with a camera, a script, and incredible ingenuity, Burmeister selects the locations, is willing to climb trees to make the perfect set, and holds his car together with glue as he follows his passion to make movies and unite communities. The films he makes would be considered of the B-movie variety, but that’s not to say they aren’t good, and that the enthusiasm of the participants makes up for whatever the low-tech feel doesn’t provide. But then, there is something to be said for low-tech films; when you have little or no money, you are forced to be inventive, (as in Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi) and can often end up with a more interesting film. The villagers cannot help but be swept up in that ambition, and the audience with them. The joy the community receives from participation and viewing would seem to make up for the lack of glamour. Burmeister is certainly a larger-than-life character, if not in his demeanor than in the scope of his ambition. Documentaries that focus on a single person and their job can often end up being either dull, if the person is not camera-friendly, or too intense, if the focus is too tight. The directors keep Burmeister in focus, but also his interactions with the community and the effect he has on them, as though he is a strange lightening rod for their energy. In the film, Burmeister says that he often finds many villagers he meets don’t appreciate themselves, and part of his job is to help them do just that. Burmeister is using a contemporary art to bring art back to its roots: the expression of community, by the community.