More than 10,000 people have been gunned down in the streets of Juárez since 2007, a depressing fact that is the focus of 8 Murders a Day, a new documentary on the violence that holds the border city of 1.2 million in its grip.
The idea for the film came about after director Charlie Minn stopped in Juárez in 2009 while filming another documentary about a bowling alley massacre in nearby New Mexico, Minn explained to the Texas Tribune 's Julian Aguilar. "Even to this day, two years later, I am still shocked by [Juárez's] body count . . . We have about six to eight dead people a day. None of these murders are being looked at," Minn said.
The film quotes experts who believe Felipe Calderón's drug war is a "genocide" against the Mexican people. But in the Texas Tribune interview, Minn is cagier about his opinion of the Mexican president. While Calderón was brave to take on the cartels, his methodology was messy, Minn said.
The Juárez situation symbolizes that. You have the federal police and the municipal police and the army not on the same page. If anything they’re shooting at each other, or joining the cartels.
Minn plans to again feature Juárez in his follow-up documentary, Murder Capital of the World. When Aguilar asked Minn why he chose not to shift his focus to other Mexican cities plagued by violence, he pointed to the antipodal natures of Juárez and its sister city:
Juárez is a symbol of the violence, still. I am obsessed with Juárez, and I am fascinated by it, and I still can’t believe what’s going on. It almost plays like a movie script — especially in El Paso, because El Paso is so safe.
Marc Savlov of the Austin Chronicle gave the film a 2 1/2-star review and found that the film's over-reliance on footage of "bullet-riddled corpses" and "grieving families" almost robbed the images of their power:
One picture of a dead child paints a thousand words, but an endless parade of ghastly images only inures one to the already overwhelming exhibition of atrocity. More fly on the wall, less fly in the ointment would have been a more subtle, sustainable tack.
The documentary also received a mixed review from the Los Angeles Times ' Gary Goldstein, who thought the film highlighted an important and serious issue despite being "somewhat repetitive and not terribly well-organized."
As the filmmaker and his spokespeople contend, Mexico's politicians, police, military and survival-driven citizens have all been corrupted by an illicit drug industry that reportedly earns the country $30 billion to $50 billion a year. Add the contention of indifference to the victimized poor and the result, as sound bite-heavy author Charles Bowden puts it, is a "free-for-all" of ruinous proportion.
Goldstein also found the film had "less journalistic heft" than Minn's previous work because 8 Murders lacks input from both American and Mexican officials.
The film, which opened in Austin last Friday, has played in theaters across Texas. Interested Austinites can see the film at the city's Regal Metropolitan 14.
Watch the trailer below, but be warned that it contains graphic images: