By: Jose Luis Castillo Castro
DALLAS, TX (EFE).- The documentary "The 800 Mile Wall" recounts the hardships facing immigrants who cross the Mexico-U.S. border, many of whom fail and even die in the attempt.
After two years in production, Mexican-American director John Carlos Frey has overcome a number of obstacles to get his project off the ground and ready to premiere in January.
"These are stories about people who die seeking what they call 'the American dream.' They leave behind wives, children, families and friends who never forget them, and what is most heartless is that these stories are never seen on TV, they remain untold," the Tijuana-born filmmaker said in an interview with Efe.
"Everyone's story is different, unique, singular. Convincing the interviewees to tell about their pain in the documentary was another difficult task because for obvious reasons, all undocumented aliens or members of their families get scared when someone approaches them carrying a camera," he said.
What he intends to achieve with the film "The 800 Mile Wall" is to make non-Hispanic audiences aware of a phenomenon that has gone on for decades and has decimated entire families that tried to cross "to the other side," often with no luck at all.
Since construction of the wall on the Mexican border began - whose length in all its segments is about 800 miles long - more than 5,000 dead bodies have been found in the deserts, aqueducts and mountains along it.
The documentary begins with a Mass celebrating the Mexican Day of the Dead on the border between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, in honor of the thousands who have lost their lives trying to cross the border.
Later Frey visits several settlements, including places where the federal government is building the border barrier.
For Frey, who began his career 20 years ago as an actor, telling stories about immigrants is a good fit - he was born in Mexico and became a U.S. citizen. He spent his childhood between the border towns of Tijuana and nearby San Diego, California, and knows up close the social phenomenon of migration.
"I'm just another immigrant and the only thing that makes me different from my brothers is a piece of paper that gives me the right to work and live in this country. I'm trying to help people understand this social problem better with what I know how to do best, with a camera," he said.
For the filmmaker, producing immigration movies has turned him into an activist.
In mid-November, Frey and another activist dived into the waters of an aqueduct known as the All-American Canal, built in 1930 and currently supplying water from the Colorado River to California's Imperial Valley.
It is a route used by undocumented immigrants to cross the border.
Frey wanted to install a system of buoys as an act of solidarity to show that it would take only 10 minutes to install them "and not 10 months, the time that the county commission is taking to give the go-ahead to a measure that would save lives."
The moment when county sheriff's deputies arrived to see what was going on was caught on camera by the CBS news magazine "60 Minutes."
Because of his protest, Frey was summoned for a hearing at the Imperial County courthouse at the end of December.
In 2001, Frey acted, directed and produced "The Gatekeeper", the story of a Mexican-American working for U.S. immigration who rejects undocumented aliens. The movie was a success in the U.S. and also screened in several countries of Latin America, China and Japan.
But producing such projects is not easy. For "The 800 Mile Wall," Frey and producer Jack Lorenz had to rely mainly on donations to defray the $250,000 cost.
"More than anything it is a passion we have inside. We haven't earned a cent, and as if that weren't enough, we have a stack of debts. But our intention was not to make movies to earn profits. We live from day to day," Frey said. EFE