Friday, July 31, 2015

"Cartel Land" is a riveting docudrama showing two "vigilante" groups in Mexico and southern Arizona near the border

The documentary “Cartel Land” (filmed and directed in real time by Matthew Heineman) starts with a prelude showing some low level drug cartel coolies smuggling near the Mexico-Arizona border at night.  There is conversation in Spanish, that, while people "up north" will get hurt by or because of the contraband, we do this to survive; we wouldn’t have to do this if we had nice “clean jobs” in the U.S. like white people.  There is a hint of Maoism, to be sure. But you can ask the obvious libertarian question, would there be any profit in this if drugs weren’t illegal?

The film shows two stories in parallel.  In Michoacan, Mexico (south of Mexico City) a small town physician Dr. Jose Mireles sets up a local Autodefensas to lead a vigilante army against the Knights Templar cartel.  Eventually the Mexican government stops him and puts him in jail.  And some of his soldiers get drawn into forming an opposing mini-cartel.  The film ultimately puts a lot of blame for the problems on corruption within the Mexican government (local as well as federal), as much as on the cartels themselves;  the government needs the problem to justify itself (libertarian analysis again). 
There is an interesting point where Mireles tells townspeople that they have to act in solidarity to protect themselves. 
Then up north, in the Altar Valley, along the Arizona border, a veteran, Tim Foley, leads his own paramilitary group called the Arizona Border Recon.  Like Mireles, he looks grizzled, and has had his hard knocks in life, including losing everything in the 2008 financial crash.  But he says ranchers in this part of the state have to be able to take care of themselves.  It simply takes police too long to get there.

I know someone whom I’m told now practices law in Arizona helping ranchers with this issue. 

The film is likely to continue to attract attention particularly because of GOP candidate Donald Trump's comments about illegal immigration, the porous border, and the drug trade. 
The official site is here  (Orchard).

The film has an unusual technical feature. It is filmed in 2.35:1, but the subtitles are shown below the image, which means that some theaters have to compress the image.  That was the case at Landmark E Street, before a fair Friday night audience.

This film did very well in festivals (I believe AFI Docs in DC, as well as Sundance).
Wikipedia attribution link for photo for NM AZ border by Wing-Chi Poon under creative Commons share-alike license (2.5).  I visited the area west of Phoenix frequently in the 1970s to go to conventions held by Understanding and Dan Fry; most recent visit (including Yuma area) in May 2000. 

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