[14 August 2007]
The Border Film Project injects a renewed sense of excitement into the power books have to brilliantly capture an historical moment as it unfolds.
I know I’m not suppose to judge a book by its cover, but at first glance—with its unique Die-cut reinforced brown mail envelope design—I was instantly drawn to Border Film Project. I knew this was going to be a book that would be impossible to put down or erase from my memory, a collection of images and words that challenge and touch a certain part of me that only few books can.
Two cutout holes on the book’s cover reveal its main characters. In the top cut out circle, holding a walkie-talkie and peering through a telescope is a member of the Minuteman. Pictured in the bottom cut-out circle is an undocumented migrant who’s illegally traveled back and forth across the US border. A white jagged border line divides the cover into to sides; on one lower Mexico-half is the immigrant and on the upper half is a member of the Minutemen.
And like all issues there is a story to be told. Border Film Project tells the story currently occurring at the busiest crossing points on US-Mexico border—in Texas, Arizona, and California—between the undocumented migrant worker who illegally crosses over into America and the civilian vigilante organization the Minute Men which is comprised of mostly retired law enforcement and military workers who claim to only report the migrant crossings to Border Patrol in hopes of reclaiming the safety of the US-Mexico border.
The Border Film Project‘s political backdrop and cultural context is the complex struggle for US immigration reform. From the personal migrant stories to the unavoidable impact of the migrant worker on the American economy to the ongoing controversy on whether to close American borders or remain as is, The Project succeeds in doing what a book of this sort should do—tell the often excluded human side of current events and expound on the day to day struggle that makes immigration reform such a deeply personal issue affecting everyone on both sides of the border.
With the recent immigration bill that was proposed and then halted several times and eventually failed to pass in the wake of a second nation wide rally on 1 May, The Border Film Project keeps the issue of immigration reform in the global consciousness. Even though the window for reform passed has passed until the 2008 elections, the Border Film Project will serve a different purpose than perhaps its creators thought. It now serves as a reminder to keep the average person from forgetting what needs to be done. Readers of the BFPonly need to flip through the first few pages to get an idea of how important it is to continue to find ways to keep the discussion of immigration reform paramount, and to firmly understand the humanistic element.
The worn flesh of the feet of the migrant and the crinkles of perpetual concern captured on the faces of the Minutemen show a side to the story that can be easily glazed over and sugar coated. These images are raw and drastically beautiful. They stain your mind, forcing you to think about the people involved. Visiting the website—which offers interviews and dates of the traveling exhibit—gives even more depth to a book that could easily stand alone (http://www.borderfilmproject.com).
The BFP mission was to tell the story from both sides, primarily through pictures that were taken with disposable Kodak cameras given to both migrants and the Minutemen. After receiving a crash course on photography and what a US mail box looked like, the immigrants were free to take pictures of their journey and then deposit them in US Postal Service mail boxes once they crossed the border in either the U.S. or Mexico. The Minutemen were given similar instructions so that all the cameras would return to the BFP.
The migrant and Minutemen pictures alternate from page to page, like the book’s cover, in a split screen style design, visually telling the dual-sided story. Quotes are printed on some pages underneath the pictures but in most cases the pictures go far beyond the proverbial 1,000 words. When used, the quotes give the pictures proper context, adding depth to the person or situation captured by the camera. The Project websites notes that it has received a total of 73 cameras so far, 38 from migrants and 35 from Minutemen, totaling 2,000 pictures which are being displayed in a traveling exhibit in various cities over the next year.
The BFP—Rudy Adler, Victoria Criado and Brett Huneycutt—is a team of college graduates and experts in their fields of economics, writing, Political Science and Latin American culture who combined to create a dynamic mix of academic and layman storytelling. The book successfully remains neutral and challenges the stereotypes of both the undocumented migrant experience and the role of the Minuteman, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions.