Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"The Golden Dream": drama of teen migration from Central America hits hard as immigration debate hits presidential campaigns, and as Syrian refugee crisis demands more of us

The Golden Dream” (or “The Cage of Gold”, or “La jaula de oro”, 2015, directed by Diego Quemada-Diez), hits arthouse or indie theaters at a time when the political and moral debate over refugees hits high gear.  Although the news media is preoccupied with Syria, this film reminds us of the plight of teens and kids in Central America, along with the whole question of illegals and child migration, recently hit hard by Donald Trump.
The movie starts in the clapboard slums in Guatemala, near the Mexican border.  The “alpha male” teen, 16-year-old Juan  (Brandon Lopez), himself largely white, brings along two other teens, Samuel (Carlos Chajon), and Sara (Karen Martinez) as they cross the river and walk the tracks and eventually jump onto trains.  Sara has taped up her breasts in order to appear to be a man, and may be a transgender character. At this point, it’s well to note that generally, countries farther away (El Salvador) are considered even more violent. However, within the family, one relative worked as an engineer in Guatemala for a faith-based project.  Local churches that I go to have sent youth groups in the summer to Belize and Nicaragua.

The kids meet a Maya indian Chauk (Rodolfo Dominquez), who speaks only Tzotzil and struggles to pick up Spanish from the teens.  At first, they resent him, and Chauk takes to Sara, whom he may realize is actually female.

But the kids encounter the police several times in sweeps of the trains.  Various episodes show the corruption of the cops.  At one point, the kids make some money working in a cane field, and Juan, the best (and strongest) manual laborer, pockets a bit of cash.  At a subsequent bust, the cops ask every person they’ve capture the phone number of someone in the United States.  That suggests a dangerous idea:  “hackers” could supply the phone numbers, and draw unsuspecting Americans into the immigration crisis.

Eventually, Juan and Chauk wind up escaping the last trap together, and they have bonded.  They sneak into southern California together through a tunnel.  Juan will be tested when Chauk is sniped down in the desert by a rancher (and activity which does go on and which some ranchers try to defend legally, especially in Arizona).

Throughout the film, Chauk recalls a sight of a model railroad with snow.  He longs to get far enough north to encounter snow.  Eventually, his eventual friend winds up working in a meat packing plant and walking out into a blizzard.
The official Facebook site is here, from Kinemascope, Peccadillo Pictures and Double Exposure films.  The movie is shot in full wide-screen, and the landscapes are often breathtaking, as is the squalor in Guatemala and Mexico. The film even juxtaposes model railroad scenery with real trains effectively in a couple sequences. 

I saw the film at Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market in Washington DC.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Guatemala-Mexico border by Joachim Pietsch, under Creative Commons share alike 2.0 license. 

There were two short 4-minute films before the feature. I wonder if they’re in DC Shorts, too.  One was “Free Custom Poetry”, about poets to hand-type poems for visitors on Royal Typewriters on the National Mall in Washington. 
The other was “Creators of Superman”, in silent style, about the legal battle in the 1940s over the ownership of the comic book character invented by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. 

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