KINGDOM OF SHADOWS directed by Bernardo Ruiz has been nominated for a 2017 News & Documentary Emmy. Nominations for the 38th Annual News and Documentary Emmy® Awards were announced on July 25th by The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS). The News & Documentary Emmy Awards will be presented on Thursday, October 5th, 2017, at a ceremony at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall in the Time Warner Complex at Columbus Circle in New York City. We are honored to be in the company of some excellent documentary films.
Bernardo Ruiz joins the Advisory Committee for the IDA Enterprise Documentary Fund.
"Original, investigative documentaries have never been easy to produce," explains Advisory Committee member Bernardo Ruiz, whose films include Reportero and Kingdom of Shadows. "But now filmmakers face a host of new challenges and obstacles. IDA's critical support for work that necessarily takes risks could not come at a better or more welcome time."
Full release here.
The people we meet in Kingdom of Shadows are citizens of another country. Despite living in different regions and intersecting at different points within the narco history of the last three decades, all three live within the boundaries of loss and tragedy.
For this film, I wanted the viewer to inhabit their perspectives as a way to understand how the U.S.-Mexico drug business shifted from the more centralized trade of the mid 1980s to the chaotic and hyper-violent expression we know from sensationalized headlines and beheading videos of today. The film’s narrators, de-facto residents of a separate “kingdom,” are credible witnesses to that shift. Some would consider them smaller players in a bigger drama. But in this film, they are the primary narrators, occupying center stage.
Don Henry Ford, Jr. is an Anglo Texan rancher who participated in the drug business as a smuggler during the mid 1980s, at a time when a transaction—at least a marijuana one—could be conducted with a handshake. Oscar Hagelsieb, the son of undocumented parents from Mexico, rose quickly through the Border Patrol in order to become a Homeland Security Investigator. On his way, he witnessed firsthand how organized crime in Mexico and the borderlands went from the more centralized “old-school” model to the splintered and highly violent version of the last decade. Sister Consuelo Morales, dubbed “a combination of tenderness and fury” by journalist Diego Osorno (one of the consultants on the film), began picking up the pieces of this new hyper-violent and militaristic conflict in 2009. In work that continues to this day, she and her staff organize and support family members, mostly mothers, who are fighting for very basic rights long denied them: the right to truth and the right to justice.
Taken together, these three individual stories and their surrounding contexts tell a bigger story — of the terrible harm that has been unequally apportioned to all of those whose lives have been touched by the illegal drug business.
Yet this isn’t exclusively a film about the poorly named “drug war.” It is as much a story about the U.S.-Mexico relationship as it is a film about the narco. Despite the very deep demographic, cultural and economic ties between the two countries, stories about this relationship — whether in journalism or fiction — tend toward the reductive or frequently slip into lazy tropes. It is an especially astonishing fact when you consider that over 10% of the U.S. population, roughly 34 million people, can trace their heritage to Mexico. With so many ties, one has to wonder why many prominent outlets have a blindspot when it comes to Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico relationship.
In Kingdom of Shadows, as in most of my work, I have sought to fill in the gaps in reporting on these issues by larger outlets, often attempting to make space for the nuance and complexity that I believe independent documentary film is uniquely able to capture. Increasingly, I have sought collaborations with journalists and on this film, I worked with three reporters who not only have deep experience reporting on the U.S., Mexico and organized crime, but who also have deep personal ties to the regions they are covering: Mr. Osorno, Angela Kocherga and Alfredo Corchado.
Kingdom of Shadows is the fruit of this collaboration. It is also part of an ongoing journalistic and artistic examination of the ties that bind two countries often locked into a love/hate relationship. Ultimately, this story is about people coping with the harm that an illicit trade, and the policies constructed to stop it, created. It is about how people are connected by the experience of that harm, granting them a kind of status in another country or “kingdom” — one habitually covered by shadow.
I had no intention of making a film about journalists in Mexico. I began this project as an examination of how an overlooked part of the U.S.-Mexico border — the region encompassing the twin cities of Calexico and Mexicali — was changing, in some quiet and not-so-quiet ways. The area is both physically beautiful and contradictory. It is both a desert and one of the most productive farming regions in North America. It is also considered by some to be a major staging ground for drug trafficking into the United States.
Though I was born in Mexico, I had no personal connection to this stretch of the border. Instead, I became interested in the area in 2007, when I heard about a shelter for deported children in the city of Mexicali, state capital of Baja. During a research trip there, I was encouraged to contact a local reporter. On the appointed day, I met Sergio Haro at a Starbucks on the Mexican side of the border. What was supposed to be a short meeting turned into a three-hour conversation.
From that first meeting forward, I understood that all of the narrative threads I had been chasing — immigration, corruption and the rise of narco power in Mexico — converged in Sergio’s story. Through hundreds of dispatches and photographs, Sergio has borne witness to his native Mexicali and the surrounding border region for nearly three decades. His work is a kaleidoscopic record of place. It is also a testament to his dogged commitment to “the job.”
Most reporters don’t like to be the story, and Sergio was understandably reticent about being on camera at first. So, we began a series of conversations that initially didn’t have a clear objective. Instead, they were exploratory. Over the course of two years, I interviewed him dozens and dozens of times. Off-camera in the beginning. Sometimes just recording audio. Sometimes in the dark of his living room in Mexicali, waiting for the intense heat of the city to dissipate. Those conversations are the basis for Reportero.
The film is Sergio’s story, but it is also the story of his colleagues and the weekly newspaper Zeta (no relation to the cartel of the same name), where he has spent most of his career. Sergio is not the only reportero in the film. Jesus Blancornelas, founder of Zeta, who survived an attack by 10 hired killers is also the reportero. The murdered columnist and co-founder of the paper, Héctor Félix Miranda, is also the reportero. Sergio’s friend and collaborator, Benjamín Flores, gunned down just days after his 29th birthday, is the reportero. Adela Navarro, Sergio’s boss and the outspoken and driven co-director of the paper, is the reportera.
I see this film as part “character” story and part meditation on the nature of the job — a job that is difficult and often deadly. The Committee to Protect Journalists tells us that more than 50 journalists have been slain or have vanished in Mexico since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderón came to power and launched a government offensive against the country’s powerful drug cartels and organized crime groups.
What does it mean to report on the activities of organized crime or corrupt politicians in this context? What goes through a reporter’s mind when he or she is about to break a story that is, as Sergio says in the film, “like a grenade before you remove the pin”? Why persist when the risks are many, the benefits few? Reportero poses the same question that serves as the title of the collection of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya’s final dispatches before she was murdered in 2006: Is journalism worth dying for?
For me, Reportero is an act of remembrance. It is a wake for Sergio’s colleagues who have paid for their work with their blood. It is also an act of translation — but translation where fragments and testimonies from one place are granted a new life, in an entirely new and different place. The film is an act of celebration, for Sergio Haro and his many colleagues, who stubbornly persist.