Companion Piece: Cartel Land

I’m currently in the middle of what I guess you could call my Latin American unit. I just read The House on Mango Street, I started The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives is next on my list.

And if any of you were reading the news this weekend, then you know that El Chapo has escaped prison once again.

What perfect timing, then, for Cartel Land—the Sundance documentary winner—to hit my local theater.

Midnight in Mexico was my introduction to the Cartel Wars, but it left me wanting—Cartel Land fills in some of those gaps.

It purports to tell the stories of two vigilantes fighting against the Mexican cartels: Tim Foley and his militia in America and Dr. José Mireles and the Autodefensas in Mexico. But the Autodefensas are the real focus. The doc paints the picture of a country completely wrecked by violence while giving a face not just to the victims, but the meth cookers and drug runners as well. It ends up being a world where no one is wholly innocent or even wholly evil, no matter how much that seems to be the case.

Though the doc takes place in Michoacán, far south of the border and west of Mexico City, it still helped paint a fuller picture of the problems Corchado discussed in his book. In the doc, I found that human connection I was desperate for and it further complicated the world Midnight in Mexico introduced me to.

That doesn’t mean it was free from the problems many documentaries fall pray to, though. The editing needed to be tighter, the thesis clearer, but all the same, if you pick up Midnight in Mexico then I highly recommend making Cartel Land your next move.

It’s in theaters now.

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