Television

Which Way Home

The children interviewed for Rebecca Cammisa's film have fantasies, born of movie and TV images of the States, where kids have parents and ambitions.

Which Way Home

Airtime: Monday, 9pm ET
Cast: Fito, Yurico, Jairo, Jose
Network: HBO
Director: Rebecca Cammisa
Air date: 2009-08-24
Website
Trailer
Amazon

"I'm doing this because it's been three years since I've seen my mother and I hope to be with her in Minnesota." Olga is just nine years old and looks younger, her smile bright as she describes her imagined reunion. She's heard about the snow, she says, and that she will play outside in the cold, "happy with my sisters." Her large dark eyes brim with tears at this thought, as she and her friend Freddy sit squished together on a large wooden rocking chair. They've paused during their journey from Honduras to the United States. They're traveling on their own, by freight train.

Appearing in Which Way Home, which premieres as part of HBO's Summer Documentary Series on 24 August, Olga and Freddy are among hundreds of children who make this arduous crossing each year, many without parents. They've heard that life in the North will be better than the poverty and loneliness they've known. Asked what he's looking for in the United States, 15-year-old Fito has a ready answer: "A woman to adopt me, so I can grow up and make money." His own mother abandoned him when he was just three, Fito says, and it was "very rough" on him. "I want everything to change, man," he says, "Change and be someone else." "Who would you like to be?" asks the offscreen interviewer. "Well," Fito answers, as if the answer is obvious. "Anyone."

All of the children interviewed for Rebecca Cammisa's film have similar fantasies, born of movie and TV images of the States, where kids have parents and ambitions. Fito's friend Kevin, 14 years old, smokes a cigarette as he rides atop a freight train car. "Most of the children in Honduras," he says, "They grew up with that idea, 'I'm going to the United States.'" He misses his mother, he admits. Back home, she sells empanadas and eh shines shoes. His stepfather abuses them both. "In my life," Kevin says, "I would like to help her, to buy her a house."

In following children, the documentary begins with what might be considered a representational and moral problem. The film crew, comprised of adults, doesn’t interfere in the children's journeys, only observes them as they feel hungry or face risks. During one sequence, time-lapsed images of the speeding train are accompanied by pounding soundtrack; a black screen indicates the train has entered a tunnel, then the frame cuts back to Kevin and Yurico, a 17-year-old drug addict who has already spent years living on the streets of Tapachula, Chiapas. "Two people just died there in the tunnels," the boys explain, because they were standing as the train entered the tunnel, misgauging the height. Afterwards, the kids report, they were stopped by "dirty cops" who stole their money. Yurico is proud that it took six of them to take his watch. "I swear, it was like out of a movie." Kevin nods: "It's do or die, man."

Mostly assuming the kids' perspective, Which Way Home finds a variety of ways to show the risks they face, from graphic shots of a corpse floating in a river near Piedras Negras, on the U.S.-Mexican border, to the impressionistic rushing through the tunnels. Even without illustration or allusive images, the children's own descriptions are harrowing. Kevin remembers witnessing the gang rape of a mother and daughter, his "The truth is, it was extremely unpleasant for me to come on this journey and see how the women suffer"). So, even as the film suggests the adventure and beauty of the children's journey, it also insists on its dangers. When the train stops at Coatzacoalcos, Mexico, 1038 miles from the U.S. border, one of the workers at the privately run shelter, House of Migrants, warns the travelers of what may lie ahead. "The United States," he says, "is not the passage of death. The United States is death itself," where desert temperatures range from 120 to 140 degrees. "Many will never see their families again... Many will die." And yet, even after his speech, when he asks, "Who really wants to go to the United States?", everyone in the crowd raises his or her hand, the camera panning over faces, some smiling, most weary or apprehensive.

Here the film detours from the children it has been following to offer a cautionary story of two sets of parents back in Mexico who learn their sons -- cousins who traveled together -- have been found dead in the Arizona desert. Their mothers show photographs of their lost boys, graduating from high school or posing with family members. One body is so decomposed that it must be identified by DNA tests, a process that takes weeks. "The consulate told us to keep waiting," Rosario's mother, Cecilia, says. Once her son is identified, she and her husband drive to meet with the hearse that is returning his remains. The hearse driver also transported Rosario's cousin's body weeks earlier. He observes that in his work, "Every day, your feelings are sadness and pain, something you keep inside you like a bomb." Seeing the coffin, Cecilia walks and weeps. As the camera closes on her face, her hands over her eyes and her body wracked, the frame feels invasive.

Other shots are equally discomforting, different evocations of frustration and pain. When Juan Carlos, a 13-year-old Guatemalan, says he left a letter for his mother Esmerelda, explaining his decision to leave for the States, she earnestly expresses her surprise. The film cuts to her mother, Gloria, living in Los Angeles (she left Guatemala when Esmerelda was just one year old). Come to find out that Juan Carlos' nine-year-old brother Francisco was smuggled over the border a month earlier, and is now living with Gloria: she agrees to be interviewed, but only with their faces obscured. The effect is almost abstract, certainly disquieting, the camera hovering over and behind her as she explains the child had fractured his arm and fainted, then been left alone in the desert.

The interviewer observes that if a stranger hadn’t found Francisco, he would have died -- a fate for many children who end up victims of their own smugglers (many are raped, abused, and abandoned). It's true, Gloria says, that the "smuggler wouldn’t have called me," but still, "Dead or alive, one finds them." Cut to Francisco, sitting in his grandmother's kitchen, his arm in a sling and his face turned away, his story too typical and singularly horrific. Back in Guatemala, Esmerelda faces the camera, her voice earnest as she explains, "He did suffer and that hurts me a lot, but I think that my family there has opportunities to give my kids which I cannot give them, a chance to improve their lives." Here the film's title resonates, as no single image -- of mother or child, village road or city street -- can show a way home.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.