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Wetback: The Undocumented Documentary - Ironweed Vol 1

Ironweed Film Club // Unrated // December 31, 2005
List Price: $14.95 [Buy now and save at Ironweedfilms]

Review by Geoffrey Kleinman | posted January 12, 2006 | E-mail the Author
Some Background: Ironweed is a new DVD club focused on creating discussions around socially relevant and progressive topics. It is a subscription-based club which sends out a monthly volume DVD containing at least one feature and several shorts. Many of their features are critically acclaimed and award winning films that have played key film festivals. At this point there is limited availability of the Ironweed DVDs after they are released, so if one of them interests you, it's best to snag them up before they're gone.

The DVD:
The spotlight title on the first volume from Ironweed is Wetback - The Undocumented Documentary, a 97 minute film by Arturo Pereze Torres and Heather Haynes. While most Americans are aware of the growing population of migrant workers and 'illegal' immigrants, few truly understand why so many Central and South Americans put their lives at risk to come to this country. Wetback gives a unique window into the experience of attempting to cross the border from Mexico to the United States and, more importantly, gives insights into why people are driven to attempt it in the first place. For many, the journey north is a last resort effort to survive. The economies of Central and South America are so poor in some places that people struggle to achieve their most fundamental needs. For some it's a choice between trying to make it to the US and get a job or turn to a life of crime.

The obstacles which face these men and women are enormous. They often will walk thousands of miles, face extreme adversity and do it all without a single possession or the company of their family. For many the trip becomes quite grim when they enter Mexico. Between corrupt police who beat and rob them, gangs who rape and kill them and opportunistic criminals who fleece them for all their money, the road to the US is filled with danger. In addition many are forced to ride atop freight trains carrying as many as 2,500 people, many of whom get maimed or killed on the journey. And when they finally do make it to the Rio Grande and the crossing to America, those who do not drown or die are often met by the "Civil Homeland Defense" or Minutemen - American vigilantes hell bent on preventing any illegal immigrants into the country.

What I really like about Wetback is that it's more interested in giving voice to the experience of the immigrant than endorsing or condemning the act. It's clear that the issues are extremely complex and that no one seems to want to actually address the problems. One of Ironweed's core missions is to release films which are a point for discussion and action. Wetback is a perfect film for that goal and is an extremely compelling documentary. The film is also accompanied by a short interview with the director who gives context for the film and reemphasizes his humanistic goals for the film.

As strong as the main feature on the DVD is, Terminal Bar, an exceptional look at a New York dive bar through the pictures taken by the bartender over the course of twenty years, is even stronger. Filmmaker Stephan Nadleman assembles a dizzying array of his father's photographs into a living portrait of a place and the people who inhabited it. It's a profound look at the effects of the street and alcohol on people as well as the impact of the area on the bar itself. The short runs 23 minutes and I found myself completely captivated by it. It's good enough to watch several times and alone makes it worth the DVD purchase.

The final short on the DVD is Where is Iraq? Where is Iraq?, an interesting inside perspective of the people trapped at the border between Iraq and Jordan. Canadian-Iraqi filmmaker Baz Shamoun provides a window into a world Americans would never be privy to. Entirely in Iraqi with English subtitles, Where is Iraq? captures the raw feelings and emotions that a group of Iraqis have about their country and our involvement with it. While I found it hard to connect with the people in the short, I did find what they had to say to be very interesting, but the short ultimately misses the mark and ends up being more chaotic and cacaphonic than engaging.

Audio and Video: Volume 1 of Ironweed is presented in full frame, with Wetback and Where is Iraq letterboxed. It would have been nice to have the DVD enhanced for 16x9 TVs and hopefully future issues will support that. Both Wetback and Terminal Bar looked good, while Where is Iraq looked fairly soft and poor. The audio is all Dolby Digital 2.0 and passable.

Final Thoughts: In all, a very strong launch for Ironweed. While Terminal Bar makes this DVD worth purchasing on its own, I found Wetback to be quite fascinating and extremely enlightening. What I am really excited about is that Ironweed is bringing films like these out into the DVD market, films which otherwise would not be seen outside of film festivals. Highly Recommended






Highly Recommended

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