Behind the Lens: Shannon Vandivier

Hear from Shannon and Fish for Change about the film ‘Beyond the Horizon’

Shannon Vandivier is a photographer, photojournalist and founder of Cold Collaborative with an unwavering vision to share authentic stories. He teamed up with Fish for Change to produce his first major film, Beyond the Horizon, which premiered in the 2018 Mountain Film Festival, 5 Point Film Festival, and the 2018 F3T.

Behind the Lens with filmmaker Shannon Vandivier

Behind the Lens with filmmaker Shannon Vandivier.

 

When filming Beyond the Horizon, Shannon traveled to Guanaja, Honduras, an island in the Caribbean that is riddled with glorious and devastating war stories dating since before pirate days all the way through more recent hurricanes, political instability, and drug wars. As the Caribbean treasure transformed from gold to cocaine, the 15,000 local islanders grappled with poverty, watching the natural resources diminish around them.

Such was the story of Rankin Jackson, who struggled to provide for his family while surviving the undercurrents of drug running in the area, until he got an opportunity to work at a small fly-fishing lodge as a guard, and quickly developed into one of the greatest fly guides in all of Honduras.

For many years, the Keys to the East of Guanaja, known as Cayes Cajones, were fabled to be rich in permit and bonefish, but the journey across drug running zones and pirate waters was too dangerous. Drawing on his experience from his time in the cartel, Rankin helped lead the mission to venture Beyond the Horizon, with the hopes of finding prosperous waters that, in collaboration with Fly Fish Guanaja and Fish for Change, would lead to more fly-fishing tourism, income, prosperity and opportunity for his community.

Interview with filmmaker Shannon Vandivier 

Q: How do you pick a story? Or does the story pick you?

A: That’s a wonderful question. Every filmmaker is different, but personally the story picks me. You have to start somewhere, and I look for the parameters, like a character. Where has the character been? Where are they going? What are the stakes? I’m looking for something that has core credibility. A character that is living the story and is holding on for dear life. The good stories pull me along.

You know you really have something when you reprioritize your plans during a shoot. When we started filming Beyond the Horizon, we initially had 4 days of filming scheduled once we arrived to the Keys to the East. We were getting denied left and right by the local government for transportation and fuel permitting. Jet A fuel is used for transportation for most people. In this part of the world the cartels use the same jet fuel to help manufacture drugs so naturally the government tries to regulate its use. We needed it to fish, explore and figure out a way to protect the fishery. As the issue started to evolve, so did out our story line. And instead of holding to the original plan, Jon Klaczkiewicz shifted the focus of our lenses to evolve as well. The conflict was real, and I knew we had a truly authentic story.

Above all, no story gets told without a good team. Our director Jon Klaczkiewicz is one of the best there is. His extensive experience in documentary film making gave us a huge leg up when adapting to the story on the fly.

Q: Did you know Rankin before you went down to film?

A: I met Rankin 5 years going in Guanaja. Back then, Steve was running a 2 week-long student group before the program eventually turned into non-profit called Fish For Change. Steve asked me to make a film about the student program. That’s when I developed a brotherhood that has proved the test of time with both Steve and Rankin.

Rankin is the most authentic person I’ve ever met. He is unapologetically himself. And that is my favorite part about him. As far as filmmaking is concerned, Rankin is the gold standard for characters.

Rankin Jackson in Mangrove Bight. Photo by Shannon Vandivier

Rankin Jackson in Mangrove Bight.

 

Q: Steve Brown is a major character in the film, what kind of guy is he?

A: Steve Brown is one of a kind. The mission to go to the Far Keys happened because Steve had a fire inside of him and wanted to make it happen. He’s one of the most heroic guys I know. He is a true visionary and knows how to lead his troops. But he also has the knowledge and resources to make things happen. His ability to deal with the conflicts we faced with making the film is a short story in itself. At one-point, Steve had 5 different lawyers working to get us what we needed to visit Caye Cajones.

What kind of guy is Steve Brown? He’s a hero if you ask me. A truly kind person, with a wonderful heart and unwavering vision. Fish for Change is truly the fruit of his labor.

Q: Do you have any advice for young filmmakers?

A: I have lots of advice! The most important thing is to go do it. Start the project and get after it. One of the most common things that happens with a new film maker is that you have a good idea, but you never try it. If you don’t struggle or push your limits, you’ll never know your comfort zone and you’ll never grow to learn your own potential. Go do it! Get out there and learn!

Q: Will there be a Beyond the Horizon 2?

A: A few weeks after we left filming our last project some important developments happened. The keys to the East are a treasure for permit and bonefish. We knew that. But what we didn’t realize at the time is it’s one of the most important ecosystems in this part of the world and holds resources that are being exploited at an unprecedented rate. Right now, people are shark finning, gill netting, long lining at an unprecedented rate and it all has to do with the Mosquito Coast. That’s all I can say right now.

Follow along with Shannon’s projects on Instagram and his website, Cold Collaborative. 

Steve Brown with a legendary permit. Photo by Shannon Vandivier

Steve Brown with a legendary permit.

Interview with Heather Harkavy with Fish for Change 

Fish for Change is an organization that promotes education and conservation through fly fishing.

Q: What is your Role with F4C?

A: I am the Director of Operations at Fish for Change. I handle marketing, fundraising, booking, event management, and best of all I lead student programs in the summer! This organization has not only altered why and how I fly fish, but exposed me to a generation of like minded people and best friends that I now share my passion with.

Q: How has F4C Change changed the local community in Guanaja?

A: Before Fly Fish Guanaja, permit and bonefish were a food source on the island. With time, the value of these species as a sport fish grew and the community’s relationship with them altered. Last summer someone posted a dead permit on Facebook and the whole island reacted with upset. It was special to see the respect that has grown with time of these sport fish and the urge to keep them alive.

Shannon and Rankin

Shannon and Rankin.

 

Q: What is your call to action?

A: Fish for Change runs international student fly fishing programs grounded in education, conservation, exploration, and community outreach. Our programs take place in Honduras, Bahamas, Mexico, Colorado, and Costa Rica with a mission to make the world a better place through fly fishing. Follow this link if you are interested in donating, participating, or learning more.