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Al OTro Lado--To The Other Side

by Nikolai Garcia Wednesday, Jun. 22, 2005 at 9:37 PM

A review of a very powerful film, beeing screened at the L.A. Film Fest, regarding immigration and corridos.

This was origianlly posted on the L.A. Writers Collective blog.

Note: None of the quotes in the following review are verbatim, as I was not taking notes in the theater. Everything is from memory.

Al Otro Lado--To The Other Side

Directed by Natalia Almada

Magdiel is a very talented song-writer. Throughout this documentary you see him composing corridos on the spot. Unfortunately, not many people outside his small town of La Reforma, in Sinaloa, Mexico, know about his talent. His town offers him no future. Although he and his father work hard in the fields and in the sea catching shrimp, they barely manage to brake even. The residents of the town say that the only people who have anything (money) are the ones involved in drug trafficking. Magdiel says he could be in that business if he wanted to, but he wants something better. He knows he is talented, but says that no one will come looking for him. He has to go to the other side in order to find his fame and fortune.

To understand Magdiel's story you must have some understanding about corridos, which are like ballads that usually tell a story. (In many articles before this one, corridos have been described as the equivalent of rap music, with homage being paid to famous heroes and infamous outlaws). To give you an understanding about the world of corridos the director goes about interviewing prominent singers and composers of corridos who speak about the legendary figures in the corridos genre; a young generation of singers in Los Angeles "who speak English but sing in Spanish"; how much truth and myth there is in a corrido; and mostly, about immigration. "The Mexican government wants to get rid of people and the United States needs cheap labor," says one composer.

Immigration, of course, is the big topic in the documentary, as early on in the film Magdiel announces, after he has written a corrido for a local coyote, that he has agreed to cross him over. From there the director switches directions a bit and gives the audience footage of immigrants that have just gotten caught by the border patrol. She interviews one of these men while he is getting medical treatment. Although the filming takes place in the blackness of night you can clearly see the damage done to the man's feet after spending two and a half days walking in the desert. When she asks what they will do now, they respond that there is nothing else to do but "try again."

But an even more starling scene comes by way of Chris Simcox, one of the founders of the Minutemen. The director and her crew follow Simcox as he searches for immigrants along the Arizona border. "We're a neighborhood watch," he says of his team, dressed mostly in army fatigues. Simcox follows what he refers to as fresh prints and a bit later under some bushes he finds a group of immigrants. "Our president says that we should be vigilant of anything suspicious," says Simcox, "And I don't think there's anything more suspicious that some people hiding in some bushes in your backyard." (Later, after the screening, during a Q & A session with the director, she tells the audience that she thought the whole thing was a joke, but when they came upon the people in the bushes it all felt very disturbing).

The film crew interviews the captured immigrants and tell the director that they were only in search of work. Simcox interjects and says, "What he say? Same old story--he's looking for work. Well, I wish there was something we could do but...No mas illegals."

(Seeing and hearing Simcox I was reminded that only hours earlier I was at a counter-protest in front of a Home Depot in Alhambra. There was a call by Save Our State (SOS) to harass day laborers and a few showed up with their American flags and signs that read, "Viva La Migra." SOS is one of the many groups that have been springing up all over the country, inspired by Simcox and other vigilantes, who hate that their country is becoming "less American" and more of a "third-world cesspool").

"Have you tried coming here legally," asks the director. "We have, but it's too difficult to get visas," says one of the captured, "They have too many requirements like proof of homeownership and bank account. Well, if we had that, we wouldn't need to come here."

If you missed the screening and you live in L.A. you have another chance of watching the film this Wednesday. Check out for place and time. The rest of you will have to wait until next year when the film makes its debut on public television.

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