Last year the documentary Narco Cultura already showed that in some places in Mexico drugs have a firm grip on several towns. Cartel Land also makes that clear during its opening when several familymembers tell how a large part of their family, including children and a baby, were murdered by a cartel as they were working on a citrus farm. The reason for this was that the owner of the farm didn’t pay enough “protection money”. It immediately sets the tone for this documentary and it’s not difficult to understand that residents, both in Mexico and America, take matters into their own hands and go head to head with the cartels. It results in a raw, but very impressive documentary.
In the town of Michoacán residents organize themselves as the group Autodefensas. The Knights Templar cartel is responsible for the kidnapping, rape and murder of a lot of people. Under the leadership of Dr. José Manuel Mireles Valverde, they decide to arm themselves and hunt for members of the criminal organization. The Autodefensas quickly gain support from the population, which is evident in this film when the Mexican army disarmes the group and the local residents show up, armed with sticks and force the military to leave.
On the other side of the border in America the film focusses on Tim “Nailer” Foley, a man who has obviously been through a lot (you can see it in the way he looks), and has found his calling by arming himself and together with others (with the name Arizona Border Recon) hunting for illegal Mexican immigrants/drug traffickers. The group is seen as extreme, but Foley explains that when he runs into issues it could take hours before police shows up at his house and he doesn’t feel like waiting.
Why both Valverde and Foley have decided to take on the Mexican cartels is clear. It is because they and their families are in great danger. They no longer feel safe and don’t see anything done by either the police and judiciary to change the situation. Their goal is nice, stopping the cartels, but as the documentary progresses, their world isn’t so black and white. You occasionally hear Valverde make comments (like the “put him under the ground” when talking about an alleged member of a cartel) and hear about Autodefensas occasionally do illegal things themselves, which creates resistance with the locals.
The drug cartels are a major problem and the question remains if a “revolt” of the people is the best solution. Cartel Land is fascinating, but also shocking documentary which has gorgeous cinematography.