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1 review, 3 user ratings

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Letters from the Other Side
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by William Goss

"The Great Divide"
4 stars

SCREENED VIA THE 2006 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: Every year, statistics continue to rise as more fathers and sons make their way across the border from Mexico into the United States, in hope for providing a better life for their families back home. However, the harsh reality of the American dream comes to light when those who survive the journey are lucky enough to find jobs that barely sustain themselves, let alone their kin. Rural families separate only to find themselves in a financial and emotional stalemate, with children never seeing their fathers or brothers again, mothers never seeing their sons or spouses.

Director Heather Courtney depicts the struggle of these people with a steady camera and heavy heart in Letters From The Other Side. Her central project is the communication of estranged families via video letters, which she shares with the corresponding relatives. From these candid cameras comes the widespread struggle of farmers and artisans to survive in the modern marketplace. NAFTA regulations harm trade of their products, and when they are sold, for example, to a wealthy American woman who proudly flaunts the handmade pillows she brought home from Mexico, her nonchalant reaction of pride and quaintness strikes a bittersweet chord with their creators.

One family makes their living by selling various products made from the cactus plant, but their existence is no less prickly, as the market for their goods continues to diminish. Meanwhile, the husbands and sons are fortunate to get jobs they hate, but they lack any options, due to their lack of proper documentation and job skills. They can rarely afford to return home, between their meager money and the increasing risk of making their way back to Mexico. Such absence takes its toll, as their children soon harbor bitter resentment upon coming to terms with the empty promise of seeing their fathers and brothers ever again.

The most sincere bureaucratic responses, such as the apology offered on behalf of Homeland Security, is not nearly enough to make up for the daily struggles faced by the families on either side. In one case, several immigrants died while being illegally transported into the United States. Ironically, when the trial begins, the widows find themselves whisked across the border to testify against the truck’s driver with the greatest of ease, an action that offers the very least consolation for the grieving wives and mothers. Occasionally, young men consider and exhaust alternatives to fleeing the country and abandoning their homes, such as joining the military, but even then, a cruel twist of fate (failure to meet the minimum height requirement) leaves the desperate stranded between a rock and a hard place.

When a wall has to be torn down to install government-donated equipment for a new bakery, such sacrifice mirrors the entire predicament of these communities. This empty blessing, between their lack of skills and finances to operate the equipment, is one of many efforts from either bureaucracy that fail to console the grieving wives and mothers. Even though documenting such hardships usually lends itself to an inevitable sense of emotional manipulation, Courtney avoids such blatant exploitation with an evenhanded approach, and the resulting empathy is damn near impossible to avoid.

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originally posted: 03/23/06 14:59:05
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Slamdance Film Festival For more in the 2006 Slamdance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/10/06 G Hernandez Loved the film 5 stars
6/27/06 Sharla saw at SXSW Film Festival (Austin) 4 stars
5/12/06 Michael Guillen Folded in your comments on my review at Twitch and The Evening Class. 4 stars
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