Some of us spent last summer schooling, working or lounging, but senior film studies major Dion Mucciacito spent his summer revolutionizing his outlook on the world.

While on a weeklong religious mission with nine others to South Africa, Mucciacito worked on creating a documentary film about the AIDS epidemic that haunts multiple townships surrounding Cape Town, South Africa. He describes his experience of collecting the 15 hours of digital video and high 8mm footage as a bittersweet journey where he saw equal amounts of joy and suffering.

“The trip changed everything I am,” Mucciacito said. “You see the hopelessness. You know and see sickness, yet you can see the simple joy that things like a smile can bring a person.”

The untitled documentary is intended to raise awareness about the AIDS epidemic in South Africa. According to Mucciacito, a large black population lives in dilapidated slums where AIDS spreads rapidly. Twenty percent of the South African population has AIDS, a higher percentage than any other country, and every year 250,000 people die from the disease.

“Culturally [AIDS victims] are looked on as dirty and unclean and as if they deserved to get infected by the disease. A lot of men deny they have [AIDS]; in fact only one man who we came in contact with admitted he had the disease and would talk about it with us,” he said. “Most men don’t want to be stigmatized that way. So mostly we talked to women and children.”

Mucciacito was introduced to the Cape Town project by Pastor Dennis Wadley of the non-denominational Community Covenant Church in Goleta. Wadley connected him with David More from the Church of Jesus Christ in Santa Barbara, who travels to Cape Town every year to provide missionary help. Mucciacito expressed interest in their project, so he raised his own funds and flew to South Africa, bringing his own camera equipment.

“I was trying not to influence the situation. I would hold the camera at my waist,” he said. “It was more about heart-to-heart conversations with people than recording with a mechanism.”

The Santa Barbara-based missionary group visited four townships including Philipi, which Mucciacito describes as a community made of sheet metal and wood shacks, plagued by floods and freezing nights. The group also worked with children at the Beautiful Gate Orphanage where Mucciacito witnessed 31 toddlers infected with AIDS. He met pastors in Philipi who serve five funerals a day, AIDS being the leading cause of all deaths.

“There is a lot of fear in the women and children who we talked to that have [AIDS],” he said. “The church tries to educate its congregation about the disease so that they don’t stigmatize against each other.”

The missionaries tried to give people the feeling they were not forgotten. According to Mucciacito, the missionary operation was designed to educate and aid the people who live in these poverty-stricken areas. They would teach community members about AIDS in order to discourage the negative labeling effect AIDS victims suffered from.

“Basically we were like servants to learning about the people in these poor areas. We wanted to find out how we could help them, what their needs are. That’s the main point of the documentary too, is to show the needs of these people,” he said. “I visited the house of a woman named Thandeka; her family was taking care of her. She was coughing on her deathbed. She had a 2-year-old named Siviwe who would be without a mother. We prayed over her, and she seemed very peaceful the day before her death.”

Mucciacito said he believes filmmakers need to provide representation for the suffering populations of places like Cape Town because not doing so would be like ignoring the Holocaust. His inspiration for this particular documentary and his aspiration to become a filmmaker is attributed to his mother.

“My mother died from brain cancer when I was younger, so I guess deep down I always wanted to do something to make a difference, and I think the gift that I was given to make film can help people,” he said.

Besides giving him a firsthand look at everyday life in South Africa, Mucciacito’s experience helped him hone his skills as a filmmaker. His first documentary work was as a camera operator at a large protest in San Diego. He only used one camera and quickly realized the camera cannot record every single detail of a complex social problem. Mucciacito said he has to accept the knowledge that his film will only give viewers a glimpse of South Africa’s situation, because it only represents the few places he visited and the handfuls of people he met. He cites UCSB film studies professor Bhaskar Sarkar as a source of inspiration for ideas on deconstructing the Western or “Hollywoodian” representation of other cultures.

“I had a fire in my belly, an urge to help people in places where things are dirty and unclean,” he said, “I want to show that there’s a soul there.”

Mucciacito said he describes it as an artistic attempt to make people think about the social problems in South Africa. The driving force of the film lies in its interview sequences shot on the street with children and other poor people in Cape Town. It will also include black and white still portraits of people with the ambient sounds of the South African streets in the background. Mucciacito is trying to create a rough texture to his documentary instead of using “voice of God” narration to interpret the images for the viewer.

“I’m still looking over the footage. I’m thinking about different ways to approach it. I just got back. So I have to arrange all this footage on top of all of my school work,” he said. “I want [viewers of my documentary] to see the peoples voice first and foremost. My prayer is that it shines a light on this darkness. This thing is not going to stop by itself; it’s going to take a massive effort.”