DIFF Films Forge New Frontiers
by Alex Garcia Topete
Despite our age of information and ubiquitous connectivity, the myth of the Frontier, like that of the Old West, remains alive in many parts of the world. Several movies in this year’s Dallas International Film Festival remind us of this reality through both fictional and documentary pieces.
LADYGREY, director Alain Choquart’s adaptation of a pair of novels by Hubert Mirangelli, showcases not only the struggles of man against nature in the frontier setting of South Africa, but also the troubles between and within families who have to live in those circumstances. Set ten years after the Apartheid, the storylines of characters intertwine amidst racial tensions, economic struggles, and the unforgiving life of ranching in the Drakensberg Mountains with limited resources and odds against one’s success. Not only do the characters live in a physical Frontier, they’re in a time of change where the limits of the past and the present refuse to let a better future start.
Afghanistan is yet another corner of the world in which pioneers are exploring and expanding their frontiers, albeit in a more metaphorical sense—using photography as a means of expression and exercise of freedom, as presented in Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli’s documentary FRAME BY FRAME.
Instead of wagons and Remington rifles, the Afghan pioneers of these days rely on cameras and lenses to capture the realities of their country and revive an art form formerly banned during the regime of the Taliban. In fact, photography was not only forbidden—it was exterminated. All photographs and other cultural artifacts were destroyed in the 1990s by the Taliban extremists.
Even today, the photographer heroes still struggle both with learning and exercising their craft, and with the constant danger of retaliation either by the remnant of the Taliban, warlords, corrupt authorities of the new government, or anyone who may not be pleased with their work. Despite these dangers, as the documentary shows, they still dare to push the boundaries with each photo they take.
CARTEL LAND, a documentary by Matthew Heineman, brings the theme of the frontier a bit closer to home, right to the lands of U.S. southern neighbor, Mexico.
This raw and brutally honest documentary takes audiences on a gut-wrenching tour of violence and lawlessness in Michoacan, a state in Mexico’s mountainous south where drug cartels, corrupt (or flat out incompetent) government officials, and civilian brigades known as the “auto-defensas” (self-defenses) confront each other. Gun fights, drugs, power struggles, and questionable morals make Michoacan feel more like the Wild West than a place of the 21st century, with the “narcos” as the black hat bandits and Dr. Mireles, the leader of the “auto-defensas,” as a sort of self-made John Wayne archetype.
Heineman’s narrative not only accurately portrays this world, but it also raising questions about the line between justice and revenge, and the means needed to reach (or perhaps return) to that frontier.
Perhaps the film that most literally depicts the theme of the Frontier is Turner and Bill Ross’ WESTERN—of which the title is no happenstance—since it deals with the present tensions and struggles at the border between Mexico and the United States, specifically in the areas of Piedras Negras, Mexico, and Eagle Pass, Texas.
The Ross Brothers deliver a documentary that tastefully and naturally shows life at the border for what it is—both simple in its routine and complicated due to its implications. The frontier pioneers in this case are all the regular people from both towns who are accustomed to crossing the border back and forth for play, until the growing drug-related violence shakes up their world drastically, from their cattle drives to their leisure activities. Everything feels all the more human and relateble thanks to the film’s verité style that neither exaggerates with artifice nor pulls punches, for the Frontier of the Rio Grande has a deeper meaning all by itself.
Ultimately, these films remind their audiences that even today we have yet to truly reach a final Frontier, for there are many frontiers to challenge and explore in both the universe and our human condition.
DALLAS STAR AWARDS
Lone Star State legend and influential writer, actor and producer Carson first gained recognition as creator of the mockumentary, DAVID HOLZMAN’s DIARY (1968), and co-wrote PARIS, TEXAS (1984).
Danner is well regarded for her roles in films such as MEET THE PARENTS and THE GREAT SANTINI. The Emmy-winning and Golden Globe-nominated actress is alos know for her work on television shows such as Will & Grace and Huff.
A director for more than 40 years, Landis' films include NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE (1980), THE BLUES BROTHERS (1978) and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981).
Learn more about the honorees
Presented by REEL FX
Phil Lord and Chris Miller are the prolific writing and directing duo behind some of today’s most successful comedy films including, THE LEGO MOVIE, 21 & 22 JUMP STREET and CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS.
Learn more about the honorees