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Crossing the Mexico-US border as a touristic game

CAPITALISM / Sometimes the value of a documentary insists on documenting its makeup and fragile circumstances.
Director: André Siegers
Producer: Fünferfilm UG
Distributor: Fünferfilm UG
Country: Germany

La Empresa starts with a confirmation of a missed documentary project. Then, further on, details about a helpless and sometimes doubtful film proceeding are delivered, marked by random meetings, unexpected discoveries, perturbations, missed chances, and dead ends. All these are recognitions, which in other projects might have indicated the auto-confirmation of failure. Still, in André Siegers’ meta-documentary, all these traces create a space of potentialities, a playing field for quite complex relations, which finally leads to a brilliant conclusion.

Following traces and chances are the leading forces, which only afterwards develop their retrospective logic compatible with rhizomatic progressions, as Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari described a non-hierarchical thinking process. These fragile step-by-step proceedings are delivered and commented on by a relaxed and distanced voice, the only dimension which lays the ground for the changing situations and filmed sets.

La Empresa André Siegers
La Empresa, a film by André Siegers

City voids

Not a surprise, German director André Siegers (1978) studied literature and came from script writing to film directing. This year’s Bright Future Section of the International Film Festival Rotterdam presented documentary-story starts in Las Vegas, with a portrait of a successful tourist manager who had been an elite soldier. The film team starts taking images from the city’s voids and outskirts. During a random meeting, a local gardener, Ernesto Oliva, expressed his own film idea to make a documentary about people crossing the Mexican – US border, filmed by actual migrants themselves. Mentioning his Mexican home town El Alberto, which inspired his idea, the film team followed his indication. They soon arrived at the 100 km US border situated town in the Mexican state of Hidalgo. There the film team discovers touristic activities focused on the so-called “Caminata Nocturna”, where actors allow tourists to realistically experience the risks and harshness of crossing the border in an arranged simulation every Saturday for $22USD. Not everybody returns from there without traumatic flashes, but the village does offer bungalows and swimming pools for relaxing.

Siegers explicitly integrates the conditions of documenting these facts. The film permissions cost is $8,000 for one month. One hard disc copy with uncompressed images of all takes needs to be handed over to the village administration after the shooting. Evidently, the German film team is not the only one to accept the offer. Even film series had already been realized in El Alberto.

all these traces create a space of potentialities

Social realities

During these days, the team follows different local social realities. For example, a parent’s representative in a ground school warns children not to undertake the risks of an illegal crossing. Religious preachers declare only a strong belief in God, and the request for God’s permission will lead to a successful end. In another scene, female factory workers talk about the exploitation of their handwork.

Finally, the team participates in one of these border-crossing night trips. Actors playing drug dealers, thieves, and border police attack the tourists, who had never been mentally formed or physically trained to be confronted with such an experience. Just the indication not to show up in sandals or shorts, but with much water, was delivered to them as a basic conceal.

André Siegers’ black and white filmed work gives time-space to capture the town’s materials and situations in a nearly meditative way. Even a missed night shot on the village is integrated, intended to determine the nightly lighting conditions.

A new input is an unexpected reunion with ex-gardener Ernesto Oliva, in a moment when the team already have reached a state of lost inspiration, just filming tourists playing tourists. Oliva now tells his own story. After being accused of a slight traffic delict, he was recently expelled from the US as a person without a residence permit after 26 years of living there, being married, being a father and being a house owner with a stable job.

La Empresa André Siegers
La Empresa, a film by André Siegers

Floating borders

In La Empresa, simulations and realities form floating borders. Most who are highly motivated to leave Mexico for real, have played the border crossing tourist attraction since 2004.

Leaving El Alberto finally, the film team’s last station is the frescoes of St. Michael church in the town of Ixmiquilpan. These works, realized in the 16th century by local painters under duress from the Spanish, represent the Christian lecture of the pagan subjugation to Christianity. But, in another interpretation, the resistance of the natives against their colonial oppressors.

The fact is, the paintings developed a tourist-added value over the centuries. A strong closing scene – facts are used as material for profit, history, and reality as a showcase for moneymaking, as in El Alberto, as in Ixmiquilpan. In the best case, we can interpret these activities as forms of postponed resistance.

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Dieter Wieczorek
Dieter Wieczorek
Wieczorek is a film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

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