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Border South

Reveals the resilience, ingenuity and humor of Central American immigrants while exposing a global migration system that renders human beings invisible in life as well as death.

A printer-friendly version of this page 83 minutes
SDH Captioned>>

Directed by Raúl O. Paz Pastrana
Producers:Jason De León, Cecilia Girón Pérez, Raúl O. Paz Pastrana
Editor: Ellen Knechel
Cinematographer: Raúl O. Paz Pastrana
Sound Designer: Odín Acosta
Co-Producers: Ellen Knechel, John Doering-White
Composer: Ryan McTear
An Andar Films and Siendo Films Mexico-US Co-Production

"Gut-wrenching intimacy...BORDER SOUTH personifies the statistics of failed U.S. immigration policy." Dr. Peter Laufer, Chair, Journalism, University of Oregon
[Note: Community screenings of BORDER SOUTH can be booked at Bullfrog Communities.]

Note: Both English and Spanish versions of this program are on the same DVD

To stem the immigration tide, Mexico and the US collaborate to crack down on migrants, forcing them into ever more dangerous territory.

Every year hundreds of thousands of migrants make their way along the trail running from southern Mexico to the US border. Gustavo's gunshot wounds from Mexican police, which received a lot of press attention, might just earn him a ticket out of Nicaragua. Meanwhile anthropologist Jason De León painstakingly collects objects left behind by migrants on the trail, which have their own stories to tell. These remains, from Hondurans crossing through southern Mexico, reveal a vivid portrait of the thousands of immigrants who disappear along the trail.

Grade Level: 10 - 12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2020     Copyright Date: 2019
DVD ISBN: 1-948745-40-2

"Border South captures the terrifying experiences of the migrants and the meticulous support of their allies with enormous human poignancy and stunning artistic accomplishment. This powerful work of art speaks and teaches volumes about the dramatic failure of contemporary migration policy. This film is innovative in its coverage, original in its choice of unusual and unexpected material, and powerful in its message. A wonderful addition to the pedagogical toolkit."
Jacqueline Bhabha, Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, Director of Research, FBX Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University, Author, Child Migration and Human Rights in a Global Age

"Compassionate...Vivid...We receive the message strongly that these are ordinary people expected to do extraordinary things...This is skillful film-making, not to present the migrants as heroes, but just as people with mundane plans and dreams like the rest of us."
Charlie Phillips, The Guardian

"Gut-wrenching intimacy...Border South personifies the statistics of failed U.S. immigration policy with a glimpse of the overall tragedy via a rarely told perspective: The story of a desperate Nicaraguan migrant who finally looks across the Rio Grande and decides not to cross north...This film shines a vivid spotlight on the brutality of Trump's wall and inhumane policies."
Dr. Peter Laufer, Chair Professor of Journalism, Co-director, UNESCO Crossings Institute, University of Oregon, Author, Up Against the Wall: The Case for Opening the Mexican-American Border

"Gustavo's story is fascinating; it's a perspective that's been vilified by the media, and Paz Pastrana seeks to treat him with respect and dignity when giving him a platform to speak...Border South is all about putting a human face to the South American migrant, an important action at this critical time."
Musanna Ahmed, Film Inquiry

"Stunning...stark, captivating and moving...Full of courage and hope, these Central American youths venture out on the migrant trail, risking their lives and confronting dangerous challenges with courage and perseverance. The frank and transparent truths in their stories reflect a reality that many people are unaware of and affirm young people's strength, resourcefulness, and capacity to struggle to improve their lives. This film deserves the attention of a wide and diverse audience: high school and college and university students and the general public in the U.S. and Spanish-speaking countries."
Francisco Jiménez, Emeritus Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures, Santa Clara University, Author, The Circuit and Taking Hold: From Migrant Childhood to Columbia University

"The dangers and threats they face are daunting, but equally evident is the range of personalities, the ingenuity and the creativity they bring...Border South's many small, revealing moments evidence the power of documentary, to tell us what is left out of even excellent researched reporting on this urgently topical issue."
Patricia Aufderheide, International Documentary Association

"A mesmerizing, gritty, and deeply caring portrait of the harsh realities of migration and deaths on the US/Mexico divide. Border South forces viewers to look startlingly close at human beings shot at, trafficked, and abused in their effort to provide for their families. It also shows what the Undocumented Migration Project is doing to address this human rights crisis. This is a spellbinding depiction of the popular slogan: Migrar es amar(To migrate is to love)."
Charlie D. Thompson, Jr., Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University, Author, Border Odyssey: Travels Along the US/Mexico Divide, Director, Brother Towns/Pueblos Hermanos

"I have watched dozens of documentaries on the Mexican and Central American migration experience. Border South is by far the best of the pack...A compelling personal story...It explains the challenges - and rewards - of securing one of Mexico's humanitarian visas for migrants who become victims of assaults and kidnappings in transit...I would gladly use this film in my undergraduate classes, and it deserves widespread use by community groups concerned with human rights, foreign policy, and immigration issues."
Wayne Cornelius, Professor of Political Science and U.S.-Mexican Relations, University of California-San Diego, Author, The New Face of Mexican Migration

"Border South is an educational film on immigration that students will never forget. It tells the stories of real people crossing the U.S./Mexico border seeking a better life. Navigating danger on trains and hot and desolate deserts, these migrants literally risk life-and-death in pursuit of a better life."
Kevin R. Johnson, Dean, UC Davis School of Law, Co-Editor, ImmigrationProf Blog, Co-Author, Opening the Floodgates? Why America Needs to Rethink Its Border and Immigration Laws

"Essential watching for those wishing to better understand the violence and trauma of the border experience...While the film's focus is on the small and personal, Border South also ensures that the broader political economy that underpins the necessity of migration remains squarely on the horizon."
Jared Margulies, Department of Politics, University of Sheffield

"Border South gives ground-level insights into the harsh experiences of Central American young men crossing Mexico to reach the U.S. The film demonstrates how for some migrants, the brutal trek northward leads to death in the deserts of the US southwest border. This film is especially useful for new students of US immigration to understand the human costs of undocumented migration."
Nestor Rodriguez, Professor of Sociology, The University of Texas at Austin, Author, When States Kill: Latin America, the U.S., and Technologies of Terror

"[A] vital perspective...Border South gives voice to those who have been silenced...Without sanitizing the horrors of life on the trail, Pastrana shows the resilience of those many thousands who are forced to make an impossible choice in the hope of a better future."
Sophie Maxwell, One Room With A View

"An insightful, moving and utterly raw survivalist take on the most crucial issue of our times...An intense, compassionate and provocative diary of an uncertain quest for the future."
Roger Costa, Brazilian Press

"Fleeing from violence in his native Nicaragua, Gustavo crosses Mexico's southern border to join a river of north-bound migrants and refugees. Watch his face. At first, it registers confidence and determination; later it's elation, when he is granted a Mexican Humanitarian Visa; finally, after his return to Guatemala, it's bewilderment about why he ended up there and never crossed over to the US. Watch this film. Watch his face. No matter who you are, where you're from, or what you believe, everyone needs to know Gustavo's story."
Michael Dear, Professor Emeritus of City and Regional Planning, University of California-Berkeley, Author, Why Walls Won't Work: Repairing the US-Mexico Divide

"An excellent film for educational settings. Using the power of storytelling, the film examines migration from a human rights perspective, and offers insight into why people cross borders, as well as the risks they face along the way...It is a painful reminder that there is not yet an accurate accounting of the loss of human life along the U.S. southern border. Ultimately, Border South offers hope that science can be used to document the true loss of human life in the borderlands."
Dr. Lisa Meierotto, Assistant Professor of Global and Environmental Studies, Boise State University, Author, Immigration, Environment, and Security on the U.S.-Mexico Border

"Border South is an intimate portrayal of the violence suffered by Central Americans during their migration journeys, as well as the attempts by anthropologists to document this violence. By coupling migrant narratives with the story of anthropological efforts to track deaths at the border, the film manages to avoid the sensationalism that too often turns immigrants' lives and deaths into a spectacle. I am eager to share this important film with my students of migration politics."
Noelle K. Brigden, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Marquette University, Author, The Migrant Passage: Clandestine Journeys from Central America

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DVDs include public performance rights.

DVD Features
* English version
* Spanish version
* SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
* Scene selection

Host a community screening
The Film's Website

Awards and Festivals
Best Feature Film, Society for Visual Anthropology Film & Media Festival
Nominee, Tim Hetherington Award, Sheffield Doc/Fest
Winner, Indie Memphis Film Festival
Best Feature Film, Indie Grits Film Festival
Margaret Mead Film Festival
AFI Docs
Guadalajara International Film Festival
New Orleans Film Festival
Dokumentarfilmwoche (Hamburg, Germany)
Ambulante Documentary Film Festival
San Diego Latino Film Festival
London Migration Film Festival
Seattle Latino Film Festival
Latin American Studes Association Film Festival
Reading FilmFEST

American Studies
Central America/The Caribbean
Foreign Policy

Human Rights
International Studies
Latin American Studies
Latino and Chicano Studies
Migration andRefugees
Political Science
Race and Racism
Social Justice

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... more Reviews

"Raúl Pastrana's Border South is filmmaking at its powerful best. With eloquence and nuance, the film critiques today's global system of human management that inscribes persons as illegal often through deadly means. We are absorbed in a cinematic docu-poem about two border crossers whose lives are fatefully intertwined - one who is a privileged American researcher and travels south unfettered - and the other, who sees no future for himself in Nicaragua and migrates north at grave personal peril. The irony of these two lives leaves us steadily, but no less forcefully, contemplating a more socially just world. Border South is a film we all must see."
Grace Peña Delgado, Associate Professor of History, University of California-Santa Cruz, Author, To Open Our Borders: America's New Conversation About Immigration (forthcoming)

"Border South reveals the world of those desperate to migrate to the United States in search of work and opportunity. Their journey is heartbreaking as they face death instigated by US border surveillance and violence by thugs. A poignant, must see glimpse into a world where people struggle to find dignity and fulfill their dreams."
Patricia Zavella, Professor Emerita of Latin American and Latino Studies, University of California-Santa Cruz, Co-editor, Women and Migration in the US-Mexico Borderlands

"Examine[s] the migration of people from an ethnographic, archaeological, forensic, and up-close personal view...A unique look at migration and the human beings who may get lost along the way. Recommended."
Trudie Root, Video Librarian

"What really sets it apart from other immigrant rights documentaries is the filmmaker's deep sensibility for the intimacies of people's everyday lives...[Border South] provides an excellent basis for class discussion on a wide range of migration-related topics like the scope and shape of border externalization across a diversity of migration landscapes, the various forms of violence that characterize the social process of clandestine migration, and the complex intersection of humanitarianism and human smuggling."
Melissa Gauthier, University of Victoria, Teaching and Learning Anthropology Journal

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