The Gatekeeper Smuggles Truth to the Silver Screen
New Independent Film about the US-Mexico Border Shows How US Immigration & Drug Policies Create Organized Crime
By Reber Boult
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
July 23, 2003
There’s a new movie in town (or a few towns). It’s way out of the main Hollywood stream, yet it tells a story in traditional movie style. It carries a message, too, one that helps to keep it out of the Hollywood stream. It tells “the story” (to use the phrase of the John Quincy Adams character in Amistad) of the human beings enmeshed in that amorphous concept called the border or “la frontera,” especially crossing it, its drugs, its racism, its jingoism, its corruption, coyotes and meth labs.
U.S. Border Patrol Agent Adam Fields is The Gatekeeper. He believes in his mission, in the sense that the end justifies the means and immigration enforcers are the cutting edge for the American Way of Life. But all is not well with Adam. The namby pamby, law abiding approach of La Migra leaves him deeply unsatisfied with his job. He’s unhappily engaged to be married.
And, horrors, he’s secretly a Mexican, unhappily trying to be a recovering Mexican, unhappily engaged to white America. He’s under the sway of a local racist talk radio host. He moonlights with the radio racist’s band of vigilante border enforcers. Coincidence conspires with the screenwriter to divert one of the vigilantes’ capers into a vehicle for the movie’s message, painfully, intensely, grittily presented.
Anne Betancourt gives a warm performance as Lenora, a surrogate mother figure with a touch of curandera about her. Joel Brooks is great as Vance Johnson, a far from great man. Michelle Agnew is broodingly intense, almost to the point of tedium, as Eva Ramirez, a young mother emigrating.
The real hero, in several senses of the word, is John Carlos Frey. He plays Adam Fields. He wrote it. He produced it. He nurtured it through the lengthy Hollywood rejection process. He and a friend financed it mostly with credit cards and his second mortgage. He got Bruce Springsteen to write, sing, and donate a song, Sinaloa Cowboys. He’s working on the distribution and promotion.
And Frey lived it. When still less than a year old, his parents took him from Tijuana to live in Imperial Beach less than a mile north of the city limit that San Diego and Tijuana share. Immigrants regularly crossed the property they lived on. His mother, a legal resident, was jailed for a day when the Migra man caught her without her papers. Imperial Beach was not then conducive to making one proud to be a Mexican; Frey tried to be white. Now he’s back.
He had less than $200,000 to make the film. So there are some rough spots but they’re few and small for such a minimal budget. In particular, some plot devices need some smoothing. But even where not entirely plausible, it works as allegory, much as do films like John Sayles’ Men with Guns.
What’s not allegorical, according to Frey, are the basic facts. He says that, notwithstanding that many viewers will think much of it is over the top, all but dramatic device comes from a Drug Enforcement Administration report.
Frey notes that in the last nine years more people have died crossing than the number of Israelis and Palestinians killed in the current intifada. This is the period since, at President Clinton’s insistence, the Border Patrol was beefed up. The bigger Border Patrol started pushing crossers more into the hands of professional coyotes and increasingly into remote desert and mountain areas. Frey points out “Once the border fence was built in San Diego, organized crime went way up, and it’s significantly more difficult to cross the border. Now you really need a good coyote.” The movie has a shot of the fence, heavy rusty sheet steel, about ten feet high, a steel curtain.
A benefit of the budget being small was, Frey says, “The Border Patrol doesn’t usually let film companies shoot on the border . . . . Since we had such a small crew and no production trailers or catering vans, we were granted permission to film.” One wonders what authority the Border Patrol has, or claims to have, to order people not to take pictures of government facilities.
Before opening in Albuquerque and Santa Fe on June 20 (a packed house at the first showing), the film had only been exhibited at festivals and a few special single showings. It went to 16 festivals and got awards, sometimes more than one, at 7 of them. It’s scheduled for San Antonio, Austin, San Francisco, Tucson, and Las Vegas. Wider distribution will depend on the draw in these places.
Just before writing this I came across a Proclamation by the Town of Guadalupe, Arizona. Guadalupe is a suburb of Phoenix, so in an area where races and ethnicities don’t much mingle and white people are pretty much in charge. It’s so good I almost just used it instead of doing any writing myself. It is:
WHEREAS, the diverse people of Guadalupe, Arizona, fully support the film “The Gatekeeper” due to its human rights merits and,
WHEREAS, “The Gatekeeper” accurately depicts the life and struggle of the Latino migrants journey to the United States in search of freedom and,
WHEREAS, “The Gatekeeper” exposes the injustices of a failed immigration policy between the United States and Mexico and,
WHEREAS, “The Gatekeeper” offers an opportunity to move, teach, and enlighten the general public to the issues of a bi-national and border culture and,
WHEREAS, director John Carlos Frey has proven, through tireless effort, that the ongoing disparity that exists between hopeful migrants and U.S. citizens is an important story worthy of the medium of film.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Margarita Cota, Mayor of the Town of Guadalupe, Arizona, do thereby proclaim full endorsement and support of the film entitled, “The Gatekeeper”
For more information on John Carlos Frey’s The Gatekeeper, see the film’s website:
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