On the day he turned 40, David Whalen put down his briefcase, picked up a video camera, jumped on his motorcycle and zoomed off into a new life.
After years as an attorney with the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (Asylum and Refugee Division) as well as the Department of State (Human Rights Division), the Class of 2000 Columbus School of Law graduate decided to heed the call of mid-life restlessness and become a documentary filmmaker.
His first effort, “Men of La Mancha,” was recently honored with the People's Choice Award for Best Film at the John Paul II International Film Festival, beating out such films as “For Greater Glory” and “Restless Heart.” Four years in the making, the 91-minute film was also an Official Selection at the Oaxaca International Film Fest 2012 and an Official Selection at the Rome International Film Festival 2012.
According to promotional material created for the film:
Two men leave their professions in California, a lawyer and an engineer, to film Americans living in Central America that serve the poor, orphaned, prisoners and the dying, while at the same time recovering a smashed motorcycle. Taking their roles as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, they pass through the beautiful and historical Mayan lands of Mexico, Belize and Guatemala experiencing both incredible adventures and maddening misfortunes. They bring hope to others and to themselves but also find great sadness and tragedy on the way and in the days ahead.
The viewer is confronted with men, women and children who follow their dreams and champion the cause of the poor while fighting the formidable giants of poverty, injustice, and death in Mexico and Central America.
“The idea was conceived in 2008 to film in charities in Mexico and Central America in order to provide the charities with web videos they could use to fundraise, and to perform this service for them free of charge,” explains Whalen on the film’s Web site.
“The benefit to me was simply to be able to travel throughout beautiful and wild Mexico and Central America and meet amazing people that have given up the comforts of ordinary life to help the poor and dying.”
Whalen filmed in several charities in Mexico and Central America until the trip came to an abrupt end. Months later he returned with a friend to resume the project, this time traveling by car.
The team produced, edited, and starred in the documentary as they went. They filmed human giving in action that touched them deeply, including a nun who was twice married but gave up her life to live freely inside a Mexican prison for the past 20 years, and an American living in Belize who was given the one and only Belizean prison to run as a non-profit. They also told the story of a dying Belizean boy whose incredible journey led him from near death in Belize to Amarillo, Texas by private jet and the miraculous events that followed.
“The dream of Men of La Mancha is to unite the love of adventure with the giving of oneself to help the poor,” says Whalen. “Several charities are highlighted in the film. Our hope is that you will reach out to them after seeing the film.”
Whalen is president of La Mancha Media, a California nonprofit that films service projects around the world, such as those found in orphanages, prisons, animal shelters, and wildlife conservation projects.
His second film, “The Wild West of Namibia,” a 45-minute documentary about the wild country of Namibia, is currently being offered to film festivals.