As the Mexican drug war continues to rage in Juarez, filmmaker Charlie Minn has tackled the subject again with his latest documentary, “Murder Capital of the World.” In his follow-up to last year’s “8 Murders a Day,” Minn revisits Juarez to take a closer look at the latest developments in the violence that has ravaged the city in recent years.
I had a chance to screen Minn’s latest effort, which premiers this weekend in Las Cruces at the Cineport 10. “Murder Capital of the World” is a compelling, honest, and important look at murders occurring in our own backyard. While the murder rate fell by about 30 percent in 2011, from 8 murders a day to 6, the violent crime epidemic still has the city in its throes.
“Murder Capital of the World” is essentially divided into three parts: the origin of the warfare, the victims, and the future. Minn interviews journalists, border scholars, authors, city officials and relatives of victims; together, they paint a comprehensive picture of the situation. If at times the film feels a little academic, it’s balanced against the profoundly raw, emotional profiles of the victims. The optimism and spin from the politicians is contrasted with the tempered cynicism of border scholars.
The film truly succeeds on two levels. It explains the complexities of the cartel violence and the government corruption that has fostered it for so many years. At the same time, it humanizes the victims—gives them a face, and a voice, and tells their stories. When I sat down to watch “Murder Capital of the World,” I already knew most of the cold, hard facts. But the victims only existed as raw data—a number, too large to grasp or truly comprehend. This film changed that, in a way that wasn’t particularly sensational, and didn’t feel at all contrived.
The film also takes a hard look at the culture of journalists who have dedicated themselves to covering this war—often risking (and in too many cases, giving) their lives in order to tell the story. One of the things that’s so disheartening about the situation is the complete failure of American news organizations in covering the story. On rare occasions, when I see a brief report on the situation on the cable news channels, it’s often by a reporter in Miami. Minn does a nice job of bringing reporters from El Paso and Juarez, those who’ve covered the violence from both sides of the border, into the conversation. KVIA’s Darren Hunt and Paul Cicala are featured prominently, as are writers for the El Paso Times and El Diario. In an atmosphere where many media organizations have stopped covering the violence, the stories of journalists who continue to seek the stories, and those who have lost their lives in that quest, are truly profiles in courage.
“Murder Capital of the World” also addresses a troubling conundrum underlying the efforts to combat the violence. The best short-term solution that would bring an end to the war would be to return to the days of corrupt officials and the unhindered trade of guns and drugs. Any efforts to affect long-term change, to clean up the government and cripple the cartels, will be met with violent opposition, and it might take decades to play out.
The film premieres Friday in Las Cruces at the Cineport 10, and in El Paso at Premiere Cinemas. Minn is scheduled to appear on KRWG to discuss the film Thursday night at 9:00, and Saturday afternoon at 12:30. You can find out more about the movie, and watch a trailer, at MurderCapitalFilm.com.
Originally printed in “Pulse,” 02/16/2012.
© Damien Willis, 2012. All rights reserved.