Thu 20 Nov 2008
Good fences make good neighbors … wait … is that right?
Possibly making a few more rounds on the festival circuit but now available for sale on DVD is Wayne Ewing’s documentary on the border wall being erected between the United States and Mexico.
Ewing, who is best known for his work on a number of Hunter S. Thompson documentaries, was attempting to show how monumentally ineffective, wasteful and actually harmful it is for the U.S. government to undertake building a 670 mile-long wall.
Therein, however, lies my first issue with the film: objectivity. As everyone should realize, documentaries are usually quite subjective. The filmmakers’ thoughts will always sway some element of the film to one side or the other, even if it’s just apparent in the editing choices.
Ewing interviews a number of people who live in towns where the wall is being placed, all of whom are opposed to the idea. Their stories are sympathetic and good arguments are made for why it’s not a great idea to spend hundreds of millions of dollars and more to fence off the border in an attempt to stem the tide of illegal immigration.
However, the only opposing viewpoints come from two congressmen whose clips demonize them and remove any semblance of intelligence from their personas (though I will go ahead and editorialize that I’m not sure they have much rational thought on the issue and are probably more motivated by lobbyists).
You see, it’s not so much that I disagree with Ewing’s viewpoint – it’s that a good documentary presents both sides. There are plenty of smart, well-meaning individuals who think the wall is a good idea. A pass or two at some of them would have been welcome to balance things out. (
NOTE: A representative for the film let me know after I had posted the review that attempts to find opposing viewpoints was made and requests for interviews with certain agencies were not allowed on the record. So make sure to keep that in mind when watching the film or just infer what you will about what it means regarding the situation.)
My next biggest complaint is the band Ewing features throughout the film, as their lead singer sings a song whose lyrics directly relate to the story. This could have been a good way to break up the monotony of interviews and committee meetings but the music is so terrible that any goodwill this could have garnered is overpowered by annoyance.
Lastly, like so many films so tied to the methodology of setting up a camera and letting people talk and talk and talk and talk, there’s a significant pacing issue. Documentaries are an important medium that provide viewpoints often left off the table or under-reported. If you don’t normally watch them, or public television specials on social issues, I might recommend easing into something like this.
When not focusing on local residents hoping to keep a wall from cutting their town in half or endangering wildlife and immigrants forced to find alternate routes through more treacherous terrain, Ewing points out the numerous illegalities involved in proceeding with the construction of the border wall.
As the head of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff and those underneath him skirt a host of state and federal laws using provisions in the Real ID act. While some may claim national security is more important than a few species of birds, it’s much harder to argue against ignoring things like land ownership, water safety, air pollution and the safety of human beings forced by a corrupt socio-political system to risk everything in order to put food on their families’ tables.
It is at this point where one’s personal stance on illegal immigration comes into play. This is a film review and not a political soapbox so I’ll leave that where it is. However, whatever side of the fence you may stand on, I applaud Ewing for casting a light on it at a time when so many other national issues have dominated the mass-media. Due to the manner in which political issues are made relevant, this is an issue that wasn’t covered over the last few years and it’s good to see someone didn’t forget.
Even with the goodwill I have towards much of the film, I’m afraid I have to give “The Border Wall” a 2 out of 5. It just was so dry and hard to stick with. I wish it could have been more engaging and energetic because the dedication and drive of Ewing does come through on-screen and that’s the first, and often most vital, step in bringing light to important issues.
The subject material at hand is important and a clear example of the types of issues that should matter to everyone in this country, not just those who are directly affected. At the very least, this film will get a dialogue going amongst yourself and others and that’s where the seeds of change take root. However, if you’re looking for a documentary that will truly grab a hold of you and keep you interested, it’s hard to say this is the one. Sadly, just like the national attention, “The Border Wall” will probably best be directed at those who live near the border and already have some awareness on the matter.