In LuisCarlos Romero-Davis' documentary—389 Miles: "Living the Border"—he interviews a coyote, Border Patrol agents and even Minuteman Civil Defense Corps founder and U.S. Senate candidate Chris Simcox to tell what he describes as a complex tale that is never as black and white as each side thinks. The 31-year-old Romero-Davis knows this; he was born in Nogales, Sonora, and raised—la otra lado—in Nogales, Ariz. The documentary recently won the Golden Iguana, the audience award for the best film at the Puerto Vallarta International Film Festival. For more info on Romero-Davis' work, visit www.389miles.com.
What was it like to win the Golden Iguana?
It's the audience award for best film. I feel like that meant more than another award from critics: This was from the people. It wasn't the first festival I attended, though. I first entered the International Film Festival in Guadalajara. From there, I was invited to the Puerto Vallarta International Film Festival. I feel like from Guadalajara on, I started—you know the Spanish saying, with the right foot. Everything is moving along pretty well.
Do you hope to prove something with 389 Miles?
I want to show people what it is like growing up in this world, and that this life is not exactly black and white. It is very complex, and there is a human side.
Where does the title come from?
The 389 miles is the length of the border (between Arizona and Mexico). That is specifically what I wanted to document in this film: the area on both sides of border, along the border fence. I started in Douglas, Ariz., and ended in San Luis, Sonora.
You recently got your master's degree at the UA in Latin American studies with a focus in media art. Did you have much film experience before 389 Miles?
This is my first film.
Through this process, I learned how to edit film, but I wouldn't have been able to do this without help from (UA associate professor) Jennifer Jenkins from the School of Media Arts.
Did anything surprise you while you were making the film?
When I started, I thought I knew a lot, but it turned out there was more to dealing with border issues that I didn't know or understand. The interview with the coyote was probably the most surprising.
In that interview, the coyote only agreed to talk to you as long as you didn't show his face, right?
That was his condition. I had been trying to arrange the interview, then finally got a call, but only had two hours to drive to Sasabe to interview him. I grabbed my brother's Mexican wrestler mask. The coyote wore it during the interview. He was a good example of how difficult it is to understand the border. He said that when he (helps people cross the border), he knows he is doing good and bad—that he helps people, but knows he's breaking the law at the same time. He also had his own rules. He didn't take children ... and told me about a time when he was a kid and watched a couple climb over a border fence. The man missed catching her. She was pregnant and lost the fetus.
What was another story you thought was important to tell?
Well, every player in this documentary has a story to tell. I met a border agent who at one time had a trucking company, but NAFTA put him out of business. ... The only job he could get was with the Border Patrol. He's able to make a living. His wife is happy.
Do you wonder what more the border can take? First the economy, then the violence and now swine flu. What more?
The border reality is that there is a dual economy. Both sides of the border depend on each other, and right now, both sides are hurting. They are connected. They've always been connected. Each Nogales is dependent on one another. That's something the border can't separate. Can I add something before I forget?
You asked me what has surprised me with this film. When I was getting ready to send it to some festivals, I went to Nogales (Sonora) to screen it in a classroom (of) ninth- to 12th-graders. At the end of the film, one kid said he had wanted to be a coyote when he grew up. "I knew it was easy money," he said. He changed his mind that day.