New York Latino Film Festival: The Wall 25 August 2018

Another film in the New York Latino Film Festival, The Wall, started as a in internet project – The Wall – an in-depth examination of Donald Trump’s border wall by USA Today Network. It was the brainchild of the former editor-in-chief at the Arizona Republic, who is now the editor-in-chief of USA Today, Nicole Carroll. Journalists from both papers along with journalists from other papers worked on this. It is directed by The Detroit Free Press‘s Brian Kaufman. Kaufman took what was a series of short films and edited some of them into a feature length documentary.

The film was shown at the Julia de Burgos Performance and Arts Center at 106th Street and Lexington Avenue. De Burgos is a famous Puerto Rican poet, who was active in the movement for Puerto Rican independence.

The journalists are looking at the people who would be affected by Trump’s border wall. During the film, one of the reporters takes a plane ride along the border starting at the Gulf and Mexico and going west to the Pacific Ocean. Almost 2000 miles and three million acres. Mostly he’s looking for instances of an already existing wall and there are places where there a fences – seemingly for no reason. The geography changes tremendously along the border, so the idea that one type of wall would work, if it was built, is ridiculous. At one point the canyons surrounding the river are so narrow that no one could pass. Yet, in that area, 12 people have lived crossing the border in that area. A wall would probably stop half that number. So by stopping 6 people a year from crossing at that point would cost $1.7M per person (based on the current cost of the wall). The reporter said he has asked the White House and other government agencies if a cost analysis has been done on the wall and no one will give him an answer.

Other reporters traveled by car along the border speaking with the people. The rancher, whose family has owned land on the border for generations and now the government is claiming eminent domain and telling him he is trespassing on his own land. The border town that is fighting the wall with petitions and talking with government officials. There are towns on each side of the border whose economies have always enjoyed an easy back-and-forth between the two cities or towns and a wall will change all that. A Trump supporter who does not support the wall. “If they want their kids to come over here and get an education, I don’t see a problem with that.”

There is native land that crossed the border and the families will be separated if the wall is built. Some of the tribes have invited border patrol onto their reservations (others in the tribe protested this), so they’re okay with the patrolling but they don’t want a wall.

The journalists tried to get a look at the prototypes before they were revealed but were unsuccessful. What’s going to happen with the prototypes is the government is going to take what works from each and use it to build one type of wall. For instance, some of the prototypes are solid on the bottom but there are areas where there is flooding, so the water needs to go over the border and then be allowed to recede. At other spots, there need to be gates in the wall since the wall would be built north of the border, so border patrol would need to get closer to the border.

A woman wandered the desert looking for the remains of her brother. He was born in Central America but came to the US when he was 4yo. As an adult, he was deported but he wanted to come back to the only country he ever knew. She doesn’t find him but later some remains found in the desert are DNA-tested and the family buries her brother.

Volunteers walk along the desert carrying water because many people crossing the desert die of dehydration. You need at least two gallons a day to survive and they can’t carry enough.

The sister of a border patrol agent who was killed on a border ranch (and the family and others believe the circumstances are being covered up since the FBI supplied guns to the smugglers/killers) says the wall is a good idea. The ranch owner said one of the trees on his ranch is called the rape tree because Mexicans will rape women trying to cross and they hang the women’s underwear from the tree. It’s a big ranch and his ranch hands are frightened of the smugglers who trespass on the land.

The only interview on the Mexican side (there are others online but not in the film) is with two Honduran men sleeping in a cemetery waiting for time that they could cross the border. During the Q&A, the reporter who had interviewed them said the men were abducted, thrown in a van, and kept prisoners. They eventually found an open window and escaped. They went back to the cemetery because it was the only place they knew, still waiting for a moment when they could cross the border.

During the Q&A, the reporters were asked if it was a challenge to stay neutral. They said that was their job and all opinions were valid (I shook my head vigorously at that. No they’re not). One reporter spoke of justice – she interviewed a US woman in a border town who said that Mexicans are ruining her neighborhood. She thanked the reporter for listening to her and the (Latina) reporter thanked her for talking to her. I just wondered if the reporter had followed up with a question of how the Mexicans were ruining the neighborhood – were they actual criminals or was it that she just doesn’t like Mexicans living in her neighborhood?

Asked about alternatives to the wall, the reporters said they haven’t seen or heard of any. None of the economic issues that bring people to the border are addressed by the wall. And Trump supporters aren’t looking for an alternative – they want the wall because it was promised.

There was interview with one of the small town border mayors. He was asked the same question that every person was asked – what is a border? He hesitated and went back and forth for a while before giving an answer. His non-response (before his response) was shown at the beginning and end of the film because it represented the difficulty in answering that question.

After the Q&A, we were all invited to small reception. The crudités were served in tiny plastic cups with blue cheese dip on the bottom and a chili pepper, tiny celery stick, piece of beet, and piece of carrot. It worked really well. A small popper was filled with eggplant and very very good. A small piece of crusty bread with roast beef and a tomato. And capicola and cheese. There was also beer, wine, soda, and water. The food was surprisingly good. Better than a lot of bigger expensive receptions.

The movie and the short films are important – for the most part, the people who will live in the area where the wall would be built have been ignored. And to see the actual geography and how difficult it would be to actually build a wall in most of the places is something you don’t see on the nighttime news.


By Carene Lydia Lopez