Documentary at AMC 30
Caught in the crossfire: 8 Murders a Day examines Juarez violence
Here’s one case where, unfortunately, the title really does say it all. 8 Murders a Day, an independently produced documentary by Boston-born, New York-reared broadcast journalist Charlie Minn, takes an unflinching look at the bloody violence routinely triggered by murderous drug cartels just across the Tex-Mex border in Juarez.
In his film, and in interviews, Minn repeatedly underscores a grim statistic: In Juarez, where drug thugs feel empowered to gun down troublesome rivals, law enforcement officials and/or meddlesome reporters without fear of ever being arrested, and where innocent bystanders all too often are caught in the crossfire, the murder count last year reached 3,111 people.
To put that figure in perspective: More people than were killed during the infamous terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 were slain in Juarez during 2010.
When Minn first heard reports of the drug-related mayhem in Mexico, he was surprised – and disturbed – that more people in the United States aren’t aware of the situation. (Like many observers, he feels the U.S. is partly responsible for the bloodshed, since so many customers of the cartels are American consumers of their illicit products.) So he set out to investigate, then educate.
CultureMap: While you were working on this documentary, did you ever worry whether someone might end up making a documentary about you?
Charlie Minn: You mean like, did I worry whether I’d be threatened and killed and all that?
Minn: Not really. I was not nervous, I was not scared. To me, it was just a job. Obviously, more dangerous than a normal job. But just a job.
Of course, I kept it very low profile. I did ride-alongs, and I was inside vehicles. But I kept it low-key. You don’t always have to publicize what your movie’s about, and what you’re doing. This obviously was a movie I didn’t want to tell too many people about while I was making it, because there could have been some opposition.
CM: How much time did actually spend in Juarez?
Minn: I’ve lost count, really. I started going in there in January 2010, doing some research, and then we started shooting there in the fall of 2010. We wrapped in November, and then we were editing for about four months. And then we finished the movie in time to open in February.
CM: You mentioned doing ride-alongs. Did you accompany police or soldiers to crime scenes?
Minn: No. I wasn’t about to do police, I wasn’t about to do soldiers. Because there’s a very popular opinion, locally, that they’re criminals. So I wasn’t about to be part of the corruption. So I did it with the media. Not that the media is squeaky clean. But I felt my best chance of staying alive was to do my ride-alongs with the media.
CM: What surprised you the most about you saw first-hand in Juarez?
Minn: Well, when you go into Juarez sometimes, either in the day or in the night, you’d never guess this place was the murder capital of the world. I mean, there’s some really nice, friendly people in that city. But then you might go two streets over, or one block that way, and you’ll find that 10 people were shot in a house the day before. Fortunately, I never witnessed any of the violence first-hand. But I’m still so amazed by the sheer body count. It just doesn’t seem right.
I mean, what we have in a nutshell is, every day, seven or eight dead Mexican people lying in the street with holes in their heads. And there’s hardly any investigations, hardly any arrests. And, like I say, this thing is going on every single day. It just amazes me how overlooked this is, how rudely ignored the Mexican people have been.
It’s literally a bullet-riddled free-for-all, where over 95 percent of the crimes are not even investigated. That’s why you have people going around doing whatever they want. There’s absolutely no law and order. There’s impunity everywhere.
CM: Who do you hold most responsible for all this mayhem?
Minn: Good question. I mean, really, when you get down to it – it’s the cartels. It’s easy to point to the government, thinking that they’re in collaboration with [the cartels]. But I can’t point to anything that definitely proves that. It’s a popular opinion, that the government and the cartels are in cahoots because the government needs their money. Mexico needs the money that’s coming from the cartels. Of course, all of that money is coming from the United States. But at the end of the day, it’s the cartels that are fighting over all this turf space.
And I believe there’s also lot of what I call “reluctant criminals” in Juarez. They have no choice, but they’re involved in this. It’s difficult not to make some kind of compromise if you live in Juarez. And there is a short life expectancy there right now. If you’re with the cartels, you can get shot at any time. And if you’re not with the cartels, chances are you’re resisting them – and that could piss somebody off, and make you the next statistic. No matter how you look at this thing, it’s just a miserable scenario.
CM: Finally, what do you hope to do with your film?
Minn: My primary goal is to create as much awareness about something that’s been so overlooked. I mean, that more people were killed in Juarez last year than were killed on 9/11. And more people have been killed in the last three years there than in both of our wars in the Middle East combined. Eight thousand people have been killed in Juarez in the last three years. All this in a city of just 1.2 million.
I want to create as much pressure as possible for the White House to do something. Because I honestly think the U.S. will have to help out Mexico. I don’t think Mexico can help itself. It’s that corrupt in Juarez.