Hell on the border 

Renaud Brothers in Juarez for NY Times.

DANGER IN JUAREZ: Little Rock natives Brent and Craig Renaud have produced a series of short-form documentaries for the New York times about drug-fueled violence in Juarez, Mexico.
  • DANGER IN JUAREZ: Little Rock natives Brent and Craig Renaud have produced a series of short-form documentaries for the New York times about drug-fueled violence in Juarez, Mexico.

Yeah, we know this column is called The Televisionist, but in our way of thinking, that covers a lot more than just television. It's a brave new world, with new choices for entertainment and information, and we take it where we can get it, sweetheart. Increasingly, the stuff to be found online outshines even the best of what can be found on television.

A great example is Brent and Craig Renaud's new short-form documentaries on the drug-fueled violence in Juarez, Mexico, that debut Dec. 8, 9 and 10 on the New York Times website, video.nytimes.com. Originally from Little Rock, the Renaud brothers are the brains behind the Little Rock Film Festival, and have often put themselves in harm's way in pursuit of their documentary projects, which take viewers from the battlefields of Iraq to the rubble-strewn streets of post-earthquake Haiti. In this new doc, the Renauds bring us all a glimpse of the border hell created by this country's seemingly insatiable appetite for drugs. (You can also find earlier Renaud docs from Juarez on the Times' video page).

Though the three docs are less than 10 minutes each, their weight and power shines through, mostly thanks to the willingness of the Renauds to go beyond the dry statistics and easy answers and seek out the always-more-dangerous truth. In one documentary, titled "Juarez Youth," the filmmakers brave some of Juarez's roughest slums to speak to members of the city's burgeoning street gangs — baby-faced killers who often wind up as cannon fodder in the wars between the cartels. These are just kids, but they've grown up in a world were life is so cheap that people no longer get alarmed at stepping over a dead body in the street. After that, the brothers seek out the head of social services in Juarez, a man charged with running the largest juvenile lockup in Latin America.

In another short doc, titled "Security in an Insecure Land," which is already posted on the Times' website, the Renauds tell the story of one of the few legal growth industries in Juarez: private security. In this segment, they profile the owner of a private security firm, a man who knows that violence is good for his business but who is still crushed by the violence he sees on the streets where he played as a boy. In one scene, he interviews former Juarez policemen looking to become security officers, but has to turn them away when it becomes clear they're entirely unqualified; in another, he shares a quiet dinner with his family, lamenting with his wife that they may have to soon move the children to El Paso, Texas, so they can be safe. In maybe the most touching scene, he shows off his collection of intricate toy soldiers, which he paints late into the night when the faces of the dead men he has seen make it impossible for him to sleep.

Given that I'm a journalist, it might be the third segment, titled "The World's Most Dangerous Beat," that was the most moving. Here, the Renaud brothers profile several members of the media in Juarez, who face the constant threat of death because something they wrote or said on air was deemed threatening to the cartels or corrupt local police. More than 50 journalists have been killed there in the last five years. The amazing heroes from this short doc are enough to make you thank your lucky stars you were born in America: Augustine Mesa, a cameraman and reporter for Juarez's channel 44, who covers local gang murders in horrific detail, but doesn't investigate any further because he knows it could mean death; a female crime reporter who works across the hall from the office of a co-worker who was assassinated for doing the same job; a journalist who was actually granted permanent political asylum in the U.S. because of threats by the cartels; an editor for El Diario who runs his reporter's stories un-bylined for fear she will be murdered.

Watching such things from here in safe-and-sane America, they seem like — for lack of a better word — absolute madness; the perfect example of what happens when society reaches its breaking point. That the Renaud brothers went there, riding in bulletproof cars with machine-gun-toting bodyguards, is amazing and moving in and of itself. That they came back with these stories is proof that there are still some people in the world who value the truth over their own lives.

While the New York Times series isn't all that long, it is mighty, and should give every one of us a good bit of pause — enough, at least, to say thanks that we live where we do, in a country where power and justice amount to more than what can be found in the barrel of a gun.



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by David Koon

Most Shared

  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders to be deputy White House press secretary

    Donald Trump announced additional White House staff today, notably including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy assistant to the president and principal deputy press secretary.
  • Legislation filed for $10 million school voucher program

    The legislation to vastly expand transfer of state tax dollars to private schools came before the school choice day event I mentioned earlier.
  • Watch the trailer for 'Shelter,' the Renaud Bros. new doc on homeless kids in New Orleans

    Check out the trailer for "Shelter," the Renaud Bros. new feature-length documentary about homeless teens navigating life on the streets of New Orleans with the help of Covenant House, the longstanding French Quarter shelter for homeless kids.
  • Trumpeting

    When President-elect Trump announced he would, in a few days, force Congress to enact comprehensive health insurance for everyone, poor or rich, that would provide better and cheaper care than they've ever gotten, you had to wonder whether this guy is a miracle worker or a fool.
  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

Latest in The Televisionist

  • Netflix pix: revenge!

    Is there anything more satisfying than watching a character take a just and righteous revenge on someone who has smugly screwed them over at some time in the past? Not in this writer's book. I love the cinema of revenge, and Netflix Instant happens to have a crop of Revengers that includes some of the best ever made.
    • May 30, 2013
  • Netflix pix: 'Kumare'

    With Easter just passed, I've been thinking a lot about faith — why we need it, what purpose it serves, and just how devout many of the people who claim to be religious really are. It's a question for the ages, and will probably be debated until the sun goes supernova or language finally devolves into a series of squeaks and grunts, whichever comes first.
    • Mar 28, 2013
  • Netflix Pix

    Hidden gems from Netflix Instant.
    • Dec 19, 2012
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

Jack Pearadin and Doug Nelsen found a 1.73-carat diamond after nearly a year of searching the park's field.

Event Calendar

« »


1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation