Watching: One Border, Two Visions

In two timely documentaries.

By The Watching Team

Dear Watchers,

We know your watching time is limited. And the amount of things available to watch … is not. Looking for a movie? Nearly any movie ever made? It’s probably streaming somewhere. That’s a lot of movies.

Below, we’re recommending two of them, the latest of our weekly double-feature recommendations. We think the movies will pair well — with each other and with you.


Your weekly double feature: Border crossings

An Autodefensa rally, as seen in the Matthew Heineman documentary “Cartel Land.”The Orchard

In the opening scene of “Cartel Land,” a gripping documentary now streaming on Hulu, we witness a team of Mexican meth cooks preparing a batch under cover of darkness. Later, we follow the Arizona Border Recon, a militia group led by Tim Foley, known as Nailer, as they patrol the porous border in search of cartel scouts and mules. Later still, bullets whizz past the camera as the Autodefensa, a citizens’ militia led by Dr. José Manuel Mireles, works to expel the Knights Templar cartel from the Michoacán region in Mexico.

The immediacy of “Cartel Land” is astonishing: The director Matthew Heineman embeds himself in two different vigilante groups like a foreign correspondent in a war zone. But beyond the adrenaline rush, Heineman underscores the perceived inadequacies of the U.S. and Mexican government in dealing with the violence that menaces border communities. He also leads viewers to question whether society benefits when citizens take the law into their own hands.


By contrast, the documentary “Western,” by the immensely talented Turner and Bill Ross (“Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets”), suggests hope for a gentler cultural exchange. For generations, Eagle Pass, Tex., and Piedras Negras, Mexico, separated by the Rio Grande, have coexisted as sister cities. But the encroachment of cartels and anti-immigrant sentiment threatens their relationship. “Western” follows Eagle Pass’s bilingual mayor as he presses against these outside forces, but it isn’t a polemic. Instead, the Rosses are more interested in evoking the personalities, traditions and iconography of a locale that transcends politics. — Scott Tobias

Stream “Cartel Land” on Hulu and Kanopy. Rent it on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.

Stream “Western” on the Criterion Channel. Rent it on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube.



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