Projects for Peace: The Vision of Kathryn W. Davis

"My challenge to you is to bring about a mind-set of preparing for peace, instead of preparing for war."


Gabriel Goodenough started his film career in front of the camera, as an extra in the movie Hairspray. He was 12 years old. At the USC School of Cinematic Arts, he earned a degree in film production. Soon afterward, Gabriel found himself behind the camera, filming blockbusters like A Beautiful Mind and TV shows including The Sopranos, The West Wing, and The Wire. He was slowly building his career. And yet, as Gabriel describes it, something about those largescale Hollywood productions “felt empty.”

Today, Gabriel’s camera captures the real-life stories of everyday people. He has reported the tragedy of drugs and inner-city violence in Baltimore, followed war correspondents in East Ukraine, interviewed female prison inmates in America, and documented the art of making mezcal in Mexico. Reflecting on his stint in mainstream TV and film, Gabriel says, “It always felt like wasted energy not to use the art form as an agent for positive change.”

In 2010, Gabriel began filming a documentary in Colombia. The film was about the capture of 10 national police officers and soldiers in 1999 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). FARC was established in 1964 as a rebel movement representing Colombia’s rural poor. They gained power through armed revolution and financed their political and military battle against the Colombian government through kidnapping, extortion, and participating in the drug trade.

The Colombian government made it illegal for anyone to communicate or negotiate with FARC rebels. But the wives of the 10 kidnapped men refused to accept the government’s position and created a political movement to secure the release of their husbands. For two years, Gabriel followed their story. In 2012, FARC released the men, signaling a willingness to launch talks to end the country’s five-decade civil war. And that’s when a new story began to unfold.

"If I can document the process of peace in Colombia, a country ravaged by war for more than 50 years, then maybe we can discover a pathway to a greater peace worldwide." 

“I was there when these men were released, and what really stuck with me was the calm. After 13 years in the jungle—without freedom, without their loved ones—all of that anger, frustration, and revenge was gone,” says Gabriel. “They weren’t angry with the FARC rebels. They knew the rebels were just poor people, like them, and they could sympathize with their position. They had a simple sense of forgiveness. And they explained that if they did not forgive, the war would become their children’s war—with no peace for anyone. There is something in the kernel of that idea— forgiveness as the ultimate tool for peace—that I think is really powerful.”

In November 2016, Colombia’s congress approved a peace accord between the government and the FARC rebels, ending Latin America’s longest-running conflict. Many Colombian citizens approved the accord, but just as many did not. In the fall of 2017, Gabriel is returning to Colombia to continue his story and learn if forgiveness on a truly large scale is possible for the country and its citizens.

But he couldn’t go back without first improving his language skills.

“Documentary filmmaking is all about relating to people,” says Gabriel. “The connection I have with the person I’m filming is going to show on the screen. And my inability to speak Spanish fluently has, at times, been blocking my ability to make connections and tell the story of Colombia that is honest, truthful, and respectful.”

A summer at Middlebury’s Spanish School has enabled Gabriel to continue his work. Ultimately, he hopes to show that if Colombia can find peace, perhaps there’s hope for resolving other seemingly intractable conflicts. “If I can document the process of peace in Colombia, a country ravaged by war for more than 50 years,” he says, “then maybe we can discover a pathway to a greater peace worldwide.”