"Carte Land" (2015 release; 100 min.) is a documentary that examines what is happening in the Mexican state of Michoacán, in south-west Mexico (about 1,000 miles from the US border), and in a separate story, we also take a look at what some people are doing at the Arizona border with Mexico. As the documentary opens, we see Mexican guys cooling up meth somewhere in Michoacán. Comments one: "We know we do harm, but we come from poverty". Then we get to know a woman, who lost 13 (!) family members, all brutally murdered by the cartel when their employer (owner of a lime orchard) couldn't pay the cartel, so they shot his employees as revenge. Then we get to know Dr. Mireles, a Michoacán-based physician who is sick and tired of the violence, and realizing that the official authorities will not/cannot do anything, he decides to start the Autodefensas, a grass roots movement to claim back the streets and towns of Michoacán.
Couple of comments: first, this is another documentary from producer-director Matthew Heineman, and with this latest, he hits the bull's eye. The situation in the Mexican state of Michoacán is so bad that people are outright desperate for relief, ANY relief. There is an astonishing scene that plays out in the city of Apo, where the Autodefensas capture several cartel members. Then the Mexican Army comes sweeping in, and tries to disarm the Autodefensas (yes! not the cartel). The town's population quickly gathers and essentially howls the Army back out of town. Jaw-dropping. There are other such scenes in this riveting, and revolting, documentary. With revolting, I refer of course to the deplorable situation the Mexican people find themselves in, left to their own devices with the state or federal authorities pretty much absent. Beware, on several occasions there is shocking forage or pictures, and this documentary is most certainly not for the faint of heart. Second, the 'parallel' story of the Arizona Border Recon, with veterans taking it on themselves to patrol the border to keep migrants out, falls utterly short and frankly looks a bit silly as compared to the stuff we see happening in Michoacán. It would've made the documentary even better by simply focusing on what is happening on the ground in Mexico. But even with that unnecessary side story, "Cartel Land" is an unforgettable documentary.
"Cartel Land" made quite a splash at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and when out of the blue this showed up at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati this weekend, I couldn't believe my luck and went to see it right away. The matinée screening where I saw this at was a private affair, as in: I literally was the only person in the theater. That is a darn shame, as "Cartel Land" makes for compelling, if at times uncomfortable, viewing. If you get an opportunity to check this out and draw your own conclusions, be it at the theater, on Amazon Instant Video, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, do not miss it! "Cartel Land" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!