Monday, January 05, 2009
By John Latchem | Posted: 22 Nov 2008
Like many Americans, indie filmmaker Chris Burgard was concerned about illegal immigration and border security.
As he studied the issue, he decided to film a rally sponsored by the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps (the MCDC is a separate organization from the better-known Minutemen Project). What he learned there inspired him to delve deeper into how illegal immigrants enter the United States. His subsequent film, Border, which receives the lion’s share of the media spotlight). What he learned there inspired him to delve deeper into how illegal immigrants enter the United States. His subsequent film, Border, chronicles many of the problems encountered by those trying to maintain security at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The local cops are outgunned,” Burgard said. “American ranchers are getting hurt. Mexican citizens are getting hurt. The guys who are making out are the cartels, the politicians and big business.”
With footage filmed in October 2005 and April 2006, Burgard describes a region of America that has developed its own unique culture, but that in many respects has evolved little from the days of the Wild West.
Burgard illustrates several routes used by coyotes — smugglers paid to illegally bring people into the United States. Because smuggling activities are lucrative and often involve drugs, Burgard said, the coyotes are sometimes accompanied by armed paramilitaries who usually are better equipped than U.S. Border Patrol agents.
In his effort to document smuggling activities, Burgard and his film crew camped along one of the main routes, using a night-vision camera to record a group of armed border crossers. Some of the people were carrying bags presumably loaded with drugs, and were protected by armed gunmen. Burgard and his team did their best to remain silent and hidden.
“The adrenaline was pumping so fast,” Burgard said. “I’m lying there holding my hand on my chest trying to keep it from pumping up and down. We were outnumbered. The guys smuggling pot are carrying AK-47s. We wouldn’t have lasted long with our six-shooters.”
Despite his harrowing experiences in making the film, Burgard was unable to find a distributor. So he took Border on tour, arranging screenings in major cities and selling copies of the DVD through his own Web site, www.BorderMovie.com. For three months, Burgard visited such markets as Texas, Arizona, Florida, Rhode Island, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Washington, D.C., and shipped more than 15,000 DVDs. In one theater in Northern Wisconsin, Burgard said his movie outsold a “Harry Potter” movie.
“I’ve spent the better part of the past year hearing from big studio distributors that it’s a good movie, but it won’t sell,” Burgard said. “But I’ve taken it to theaters. I’ve sold it online. I can tell them that they are wrong.”
Through the power of word of mouth, Burgard was able to land a distribution deal with Passion River, which releases Border Nov. 25 at $24.95.
Burgard was even asked to screen the film for the U.S. Senate.
“In what other country,” Burgard said, “can a guy come off a ranch in Southern California, walk on Washington, make this movie and be invited back?”