You will notice if you peruse the credits of Matthew Heineman’s latest hard hitting and gritty documentary a name you may recognise under the heading of ‘executive producer’. She was the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director, the woman is Kathryn Bigelow and the movie was Hurt Locker (2012), which you must admit is a recommendation in its self.
Heineman not only directed Cartel Land (2015) but also was involved with the films production, editing and its cinematography. For its audience this film is another cultural awakening involving one the worlds riches countries and it impoverished neighbour. For many Mexicans a life of crime is the only alternative to attempting an illegal border crossing to the USA.
In the documentaries opening scene we are treated to a lesson in how to produce meth crystals and the importance of the American drug market. Their American counterparts have trained the cartel involved in this craft! The documentary will return to this open-air drug kitchen at the end of the film when we find out some very startling facts.
But the main point of this excellent documentary is to focus on two men, each operating on different sides of the border and each one is convinced he is on the side of right and that he is fighting the ‘bad guys’. Firstly we meet a rough but likable character who was originally driven to drink and hard drugs by his father’s physical, mental and verbal abuse. Tim “Nailer” Foley is the leader of the Arizona Border Recon a voluntary group of uniformed and well armed men who petrol the border between the two countries with the aim of keeping the drug cartels out of America as well as handing over economic migrants to the US authorities.
The second of these two men is Dr Jose Mireles the charismatic Michoacán based physician who is also head of the Autodefensas, a community self defence group that fights the ruthless Knights Templar drug cartel for control of the local towns. This paramilitary group not only has to fight the cartel but is also mistrusted by the local military whose own interests are not always clear. We soon realise that all is not as straight forward as it seems with a great deal of corruption underlying Heineman’s splendidly shot film.
Premiering at the 2015 Sundance Film festival it won Heineman the Best Director award and the Jury Award for Cinematography. When viewing this film you could easily be watching a feature film and not a documentary with great action scenes and an exhilarating delivery. Another documentary that tells it like it is and one I would encourage you to see especially if you appreciated The Act of Killing of which Cartel Land could easily be a real time equivalent.