In the News


Everyday Visionary :: Melissa Kirkendall

02 MAY, 2018

The Collaborative No. 12

Today we are featuring Everyday Visionary Melissa Kirkendall, who is a film director, producer, and possiblitarian.  She has worked on a  variety of TV and film productions for FOX, ABC, NBC, TOUCHSTONE and LIFETIME, but it is her documentaries that really shine and show her heart…

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Filmmaker documenting Fort Worth woman’s work in Ecuador


March 10, 2017 05:24 PM

If you got to Melissa Kirkendall’s Internet Movie Database page, you’ll find that she has been busy: During the past few years, the former Fort Worth filmmaker/concert booker has been working various crew positions on movies and TV series, including the DFW-filmed Fox shows “The Good Guys” and “Prison Break.”

She also directed and co-produced the acclaimed documentary “Teen a Go Go: A Little Film About Rock and Roll History,” about the 1960s garage-rock scene in Fort Worth. Her filmmaking career was rolling along, but she sensed that she needed something more…


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To learn more about one of the projects below, click on the photo for that project.

In production

You are Me & I am You

A feature length documentary currently in production about an indigenous Partera (midwife) and Yachak (shaman), Carmen Cumba, also known as “Mama Carmen” in Cotacachi, Ecuador who despite many hardships and obstacles is working to improve peoples lives and influence western medicine through her practice of pakarina (natural childbirth) and the use of medicinal plants to heal people.


In Development


The Vastivity Experiment

A scripted feature film based on actual events about an American woman seeking a more meaningful life who finds herself in a small village in Ecuador where she must navigate the challenges of economic, cultural & philosophical differences in order to achieve a goal of creating an organic, self-sustaining, and thriving community.

Whatever you do, Don’t get sick… (in America)

A documentary about the financial maze you find yourself in should you be unfortunate enough to get sick in America and find yourself underinsured.

YOu are me & I am you

At a young age in the wake of the devastating loss of her own baby during childbirth and having seen friends suffering similarly, Carmen Cumba decided to learn the ancient ritual of Pakarina (child birth) to prevent more mothers and children from dying unnecessarily during the birthing process.

Carmen spent years apprenticing and studying the ways of the Partera’s (midwives) and also those of Yachak’s (shamen) learning as much as she could about plant medicine even though she could not read or write. Through a thirsty curiosity, stubbornness, tirelss dedication and a lot of hard work she now has one of the largest organic medicinal plant gardens in the Andes that serves as her pharmacy where she, much like a pharmacist, expertly gathers all the right ingredients straight out of the ground to create remedies for whatever might ail you. She turns no one away. People have been known to travel hours to consult her for health issues they cannot seem to remedy through other means.

For decades, Carmen and her fellow Parteras and Yachaks have been treated with skepticism and often a total lack of respect by Western medicine.  While this is starting to change as the Ecuadorian Health Ministry has started to work with the indigenous medicine community, there is still a gap in how they are treated and compensated. Carmen has become a leading advocate for helping to bring fair treatment to her fellow midwives and healers in the hospitals and medical community where they typically do not get paid for their time or services. Carmen believes that both Natural and Western medicine should be used appropriately and in tandem.

Using her garden as her pharmacy, she is considered an authority on plant medicine locally and regionally. Even the Red Cross has consulted her. She wants to share her knowledge before it is lost as fewer and fewer youth in her community are interested in learning this ancient knowledge as they have opportunities to pursue higher education in fields such as technology. She knows that as more people understand how natural medicine works, it will become normalized as a part of overall health practices.

Carmen and her fellow midwives share their knowledge through seminars, training programs, tourism and even a few published books even though she and most of her colleagues cannot read or write. However, one must travel to this remote part of Ecuador to participate in most of these programs.

We asked Carmen on our last day with her back in January of 2019 what she hopes and longs for in her life. She expressed that she wants to share her knowledge with the world. She said she dreams of building a place where scientists and doctors both indigenous and western can come together to share and teach each other what they know, what they’ve learned and what they imagine. This project is in part about helping these dreams become a reality.

This is the story of Carmen Cumba.

We are proud to be a 2 time recipient of the CORE Grant from the City of Austin which gave us seed money to get started. The Motion Media Arts Center/ Austin School of Film is a full sponsorship partner which means that anyone can make a 100% tax deductible donation to this project through the Motion Media Arts Center! We filmed 7 days for this back in January 2019, but need to return this summer to complete filming in order to capture Carmen’s full story and we do need more funding for this.

Support this project by making a 100% tax deductible donation today by clicking on the link below. Even a $5 donation helps.

MMAC is the official fiscal sponsorship partner for this project.

MMAC is the official fiscal sponsorship partner for this project.

This project is sponsored in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department.

This project is sponsored in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department.


The Vastivity Experiment

Deborah discusses with her foreman and local guide Alonzo how to deal with pests organically. Since inception of the finca, they have become dear friends.

Deborah discusses with her foreman and local guide Alonzo how to deal with pests organically. Since inception of the finca, they have become dear friends.

The Vastivity Experiment started out as a documentary project that we have decided to write as a script based on true events about a small village in Ecuador of a group of diverse people working together through cultural, economic & philosophical differences in order to create a self sustaining, organic community where every person and family thrives.

Our story begins with Deborah, a remarkable North American woman, who at the age of 43 attempted suicide.  Soon after this she accepted an invitation from her father to flee to Ecuador where he had recently retired to take over a dead piece of land he had purchased.  Feeling she had nothing left to live for, she set off to Ecuador abandoning all of the modern conveniences of American living. Fearlessly, she sought to start over in an impoverished foreign land with a native language she didn’t speak and immerse herself in an unfamiliar culture where women are still greatly suppressed.  She went to Ecuador to reinvent herself and rekindle her relationship with her father. She had no idea what she was getting into and how deeply involved with saving a way of life she would entangle herself.

After arriving in La Calera (a suburb of Cotacachi), Ecuador, she set to work transforming the finca (farm) that her father had purchased. He wanted her to share in his dream of turning it into a thriving sustainable community farm.

Now 3 years later, she is fluent in spanish and she has become a beloved member of her community. However, her father passed away last year without fully realizing his dream to completion.  Now she is even more determined to make her father’s dream a reality.

As Deborah immerses further into the project and the people of the village, her story quickly becomes an inspiring story of an entire community, not one woman alone. For example, the story of Carmen Cumba – an Ecuadorian midwife, who is the focus for the documentary short we are filming this winter in 2018/19 called “You are Me & I am You” - was discovered during Melissa’s 1st trip to Ecuador to research Deborah’s story.

There is something really special happening around La Calera Ecuador.

There seems to be a unique atmosphere of true collaboration between fundamentally varying cultures and philosophies.  Does it always work? No. Is there any resistance? Yes. It is messy and beautiful to be in this giant petri dish of sorts where the overall approach from everyone involved seems to mostly be, “Let’s figure this out together.”

Deborah and her Father Ron Ellis on the finca in Ecuador

Deborah and her Father Ron Ellis on the finca in Ecuador

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We believe the world can benefit from learning about this movement in Ecuador from people like Deborah and her collaborators. It is possible to be a diverse community and work together for the better of everyone, not just the chosen few.

If you are interested in learning more about this project as we develop it, please reach out to us via the link below.


Whatever you do, Don’t get sick… (In The US)

Do you have insurance? Is it good insurance?… Are you sure?

In February of 2018, Melissa Kirkendall found herself diagnosed with aggressive cancer and quickly found herself underinsured and in a bind when she also realized that as a single, self employed middle class citizen there was virtually no assistance available to her. She almost traveled to Colombia SA for her treatment as it would cost nearly $80k in the US, but less than $10k in Colombia for the exact same surgery she needed for her cancer to be removed. This opened her eyes as to how completely messed up our health care system is and the way it discriminates and has gone from compassionate care to profitable care.

Melissa is happy to announce that she is now cancer free and ready to be another reasonable voice in the fight to have great affordable health care for everyone, not just the chosen few. She is currently in development on this film. If you or anyone know has a story to tell relating to prohibitive health care costs and the tough choices that had to be made to get healthy. Please email us. We are interested in stories beyond just cancer as we know that there are many illness’ that can bankrupt you.