Film aims to give voice to those who have vanished in Mexico


With “Kingdom of Shadows,” Mexican filmmaker Bernardo Ruiz says he wanted to give a platform to the families of more than 23,000 people who have disappeared in an often misunderstood conflict embroiling Mexico and the United States.

The documentary, which premiered this week at the South by Southwest Film Festival, follows the lives of three people from different walks of life, navigating the difficult landscape that has come with a rise in organized crime in Mexico, largely driven by a high U.S. demand for drugs.

In an interview with the American-Statesman on Wednesday, Ruiz said he sought to unpack complexities and defy stereotypes. And his film is as relevant as ever, airing at a time when international attention has homed in on the kidnappings of 43 students in the Mexican state of Guerrero.

“There are a lot of different films about the drug war and the U.S.-Mexico narco conflict, and unfortunately, I feel a lot of them are exploitative or they sensationalize the violence,” he said. “What I set out to do was look at how ordinary people had been impacted by the drug violence and how they have led their lives.”

Ruiz said he chose the people in his film carefully to solicit different perspectives. It captures a variety of voices, including an interview with an ex-Zetas gang member and the emotional testimonies of mothers whose loved ones have been taken.

But “Kingdom of Shadows” centers on the stories of a Oscar Hagelsieb, a U.S. drug enforcement agent working on the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez border; Sister Consuelo Morales, an activist nun in the war-torn Mexican city of Monterrey; and Don Henry Ford Jr., a former drug smuggler who once wrote a novel about his experiences, “Contrabando: Confessions of a Drug-Smuggling Texas Cowboy.”

The characters are candid, giving viewers an intimate look into their lives, while chronicling the evolving nature of Mexican drug cartels, their bloody turf wars and the state corruption that allowed them to expand. At the heart of the film is the message of shared responsibility: People in both countries must stir dialogue and take action.

“It is all of our responsibility to make sure the violence stops,” Hagelsieb told the American-Statesman on Wednesday. It was partly out of that sense of duty that the law enforcement official wanted to share his story.

Hagelsieb, who was raised by undocumented parents in a drug-infested Socorro neighborhood outside El Paso, rose from an undercover agent to special agent in charge for Homeland Security in the area. But the film plays on viewers’ preconceived notions before slowly revealing his background, introducing the heavily tattooed officer riding down the highway in his motorcycle.

Prevalent throughout the film — on placards, fliers and heart-shaped signs — were the many faces of the missing. Similar images are likely to appear in Austin this week, as a caravan of advocates passes through the city to call attention to the 43 disappeared students of Guerrero, who many believe have been killed.

Organizers plan on Thursday to hold a news conference at City Hall and to protest in front of the Mexican Consulate. They are likely to echo a familiar chant: Because they took them alive, we want them back alive.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Will Ted Cruz deal the final blow to GOP health care bill?
Will Ted Cruz deal the final blow to GOP health care bill?

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said Sunday that he is not yet ready to vote for the last-ditch Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, jeopardizing the bill’s already slender chances of passage. “Right now they don’t have my vote, and I don’t think they have (Utah Sen.) Mike Lee’s either,” Cruz said at a joint appearance...
Here’s what’s funny about assuming commuters’ habits will change
Here’s what’s funny about assuming commuters’ habits will change

I’ll cut right to the punchline of a joke that I’ve always loved: “Let’s you and him get into a fight.” The speaker, of course, being the one who plans to emerge from the fracas unscathed and, presumably, rid of a looming threat in the person of “him.” That joke came to mind as I listened Saturday morning to...
Teaxs Digest: City Hall shooting suspect identified

NORTH TEXAS Police ID suspect in City Hall shooting Authorities have released the name of a 62-year-old man suspected of confronting officers at a tiny North Texas town’s City Hall with a rifle. Bobby Darryl Chamberlain of Josephine remains hospitalized with wounds that are not life-threatening, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public...
RIGHT NOW: Crash closes northbound I-35 near Riverside
RIGHT NOW: Crash closes northbound I-35 near Riverside

Austin police are asking drivers to avoid the area around Interstate 35 and Riverside Drive Sunday afternoon after a crash closed several northbound lanes of traffic. Police tweeted about the crash at 4:30 p.m. Sunday but did not have further details to provide. Officials have said only one northbound lane is currently open, and drivers are urged to...
WEATHER: Southwest Texas faces chance of flash flooding
WEATHER: Southwest Texas faces chance of flash flooding

Portions of Texas will see heavy rainfall leading to flash flooding from Monday afternoon through Thursday morning, with rainfall largely focused on the Rio Grande Plains and the southern Edwards Plateau along U.S. 183 according to the National Weather Service. The Austin area is expected to see about an inch of rain. Rainfall will most likely be heaviest...
More Stories