Living on One Dollar

By, Sarah Everhart

Background, Central Issue & Summary

Background: Four young men decide to journey to Pena Blanca, Guatemala to live on a dollar a day. They bring a video camera and spend 56 days in Pena Blanca, a total of $56 dollars per individual. Guatemala is a very impoverished country, and the friends decide to face the difficulties people face on a daily basis.

Central Issue: One of the main issues faced in this documentary was the culture shock. The men faced disease and hunger, and experienced what it was like to have an unpredictable income. The cost of everything for the men was a difficult thing to maneuver around, mainly because the basic essentials necessary (firewood, beans, fruits) were so expensive.

Summary: This documentary followed the lives of four men over a fifty-six day period to experience troubles faced with impoverished living. They lived in Pena Blanca and survived disease, hunger and low income conditions while making lasting relationships with the locals and working to grow radishes. They realized the colossal difficulty it is to survive making a dollar a day.

Rhetoric & Clips

Juxtaposition: At the beginning of the film, the boys are shown getting ready in the typical American routine (brushing their teeth, getting dressed, etc.) and immediately after a family in Guatemala is shown walking in a rural village, providing a sharp contrast.

Didactic: The documentary experiment was such an appeal to empathy that the audience felt morally convicted and persuaded into making a difference in the impoverished areas of the world. Through the repeated clippings of everyday life in Guatemala, it showed that many individuals take everything they have for granted.

Syntax: The phrasing that the young men use in the documentary are astute truths for the real life decisions they have to make in Pena Blanca. The debate between "feeding your child or keeping them in school" (0:35) emphasizes the decision of necessity and reiterates the loss.

(0:10) The four boys have spent one day in Guatemala, and are on their way to collect water. This was a monumental moment in the documentary because as they collect water in their bottles, they discover insects in their water along with silt and dirt. This is troublesome and upsetting because it emphasizes that people drink this water every day and it is very unhealthy.

(0:18) The problem the men were facing at this point in time was hunger: the men are used to eating roughly 3,000 calories per day, and now they are surviving off beans and rice. They are experiencing head rush, headaches, and faintness. Their fatigue levels are increased and they feel ill. Upon interviewing a local resident, he explains that his kids don't have enough energy to play and that all they eat is salt and tortillas. The lack of nutrition that the kids are facing is shocking; the only thing that people are worried about are their meals. The men just want to go home after being bitten by fleas and experiencing massive fatigue, and it's only the tenth day.

(0:28) This point in the film was a monumental moment of a surprising generosity. As the young men meet local residents in Pena Blanca, they are invited to a home containing eight people, mostly children. They learn that the residents survive of $1.25 each per day and are doing their best to provide for their children. The man barely has anything, and yet shares everything with Chris, Zach, Ryan and Sean; offering up his home and food for them any time they need. They invite the men over for snacks but instead prepare a special feast held only twice a year on special occasions, honoring the film-makers. The unhindered love shown in this clip was overwhelming and inspirational and I was thoroughly surprised by the generosity.

Purpose, Audience, Thesis & Mode

Purpose: Towards the end of the documentary, one of the young men writes "What can I do to help?" in a journal. They start to discuss what they can do as individuals to help, and they collaborate on the power of partial solutions. The entire purpose of this documentary was to educate the general public about the underprivileged communities and figure out where to make communal impacts.

Audience: The targeted audience of this documentary was the general public. It was an easy to comprehend film that educated the general public about the impoverished community.

Thesis: To aid the diminishing of poverty, partial solutions with individual relationships yield the highest rate of difference.

The entire basis of this documentary was centered around figuring out how to impact impoverished communities resulting in implementing partial solutions.

Mode: This documentary had an interactive mode. The speakers and film crew were the young men that went on the excursion, and they conducted interviews with the locals in their native tongue. The hardships that were captured on film convinced the audience to progressively make a difference.

Logos, Ethos & Pathos

Pathos: The emotional appeal in this documentary was one of the main focal points. The documented living conditions of the people in Guatemala in contrast to American lifestyle forced the audience to empathize for the people.

Ethos: The credibility of these students are phenomenal; the average American college-aged students who studied International Development, Economics and film production created this documentary. They had a first-hand account of life in Guatemala and applied their knowledge in an impoverished situation.

Logos: The men included a lot of statistical information in their documentary to provide factual evidence to support their argument. Seven out of ten individuals in Guatemala live in poverty. When interviewing the school systems and upon learning that 40% of the children cannot afford to finish schooling it reiterated how privileged the American school systems are.


The counterargument of this film is implied: that the American citizens have no responsibility to what happens in third world countries. The men in this documentary morally convict individuals to convince them it is extremely beneficial to assist those in need.


Because this entire documentary was filmed at a first-hand account, the young men in the film experienced the real life struggles some in Pena Blanca face daily. The interviews and dialogue conducted in the film buttressed the dire situation that impoverished people face. The statistical evidence incorporated throughout interviewing the teachers at the school of Pena Blanca and through applying for loans provided information as to why the people live so poorly. The hurricane that passed through the town two weeks before the documentary crew got there took a massive toll on the farmers lives whose crops were destroyed. Because Chris contracted a parasite in his small intestine, he had to take the emergency medication they brought with them from the United States because they couldn't afford the medicine in Pena Blanca by living on a dollar a day. It was an extremely stressful atmosphere and the only concern people face are surviving and receiving basic necessities; the young men learned this first hand when they weren't consuming the correct amount of calories per day which resulted in sicknesses and dizziness. The radish farm the men were running took weeks to cultivate and barely made an impact in their situation until the very end of their fifty-six day excursion.

Visual Style & Tools

The visual styles presented in this film were conducted as primary footage by one of the group members who subsequently conducted interviews in Spanish. The men in the video went to a bank in Guatemala and illegally filmed inside the institute to capture the treatment as well as requirements to receive a loan, posing as a potential risk. The framing shots were filmed close-up and at eye level because they were conversational and wanted to include the audience in the filming situations rather than just present them with facts. Subtitles were also included to provide understanding for the audience when the interviewers were speaking Spanish or teaching children how to speak English. They captured the culture of Pena Blanca in the rural villages, their own house, and the town.

Strengths, Weaknesses & Fallacies

Argumentum ad Miserecordiam (The appeal to pity)- this fallacy was present in the documentary to victimize the people of Pena Blanca as well as the crew documentary film makers. The victimization of the individuals living and thriving in Guatemala manipulates the emotion of the audience.


  • Documentary filmed from experience
  • Interviewing natives and addressing home life
  • Economic analysis of income to provide information for spending
  • Incorporation of cost in the market


  • Incorporation of illegal filming without progressive results
  • Lack of assessing ways to help the Guatemalan population
  • Not filming upon re-entry of the United States for culture shock


This documentary was extremely successful in persuading the minds of their audience. It was very touching and evoked empathy for the lives of those living in third world countries and poverty situations. The college-aged young men who went to Pena Blanca did a phenomenal job in compiling footage of their roughly two-month experiment and the struggles they faced. They were very successful in instilling a contemplative mood to question one's ability to take for granted many of the things missing in other countries.