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Inside the Character-Driven War on Drugs Documentary ‘Cartel Land’

Director Matthew Heineman’s documentary Cartel Land tells the story of two leaders in both Mexico and Arizona fighting against a vicious and enormous drug cartel operating within Mexico.

“I read an article about the Mexico/Arizona border fight to protect America. I found myself immediately drawn to this world. I knew nothing about border militia groups, vigilantes but became fascinated with them. I spent three to four months in Arizona gaining their trust and ultimately access to these guys,” Heineman explains to SHOOT about what led him to make the film. “Some months later, my father sent me an article about vigilantes in Mexico fighting against the drug cartels down there. It was similar to what was going on in Arizona. This sparked my desire to capture these parallel stories about vigilante groups on both sides of the border… Cartel Land is really a character-driven film about two incredibly complex men who are leading these vigilante groups–one in Mexico, the other in Arizona. The film became an extremely verite portrait of these two men and the movements they lead.”

As filming progressed, Heineman became aware of just how complex a story he was telling. “The story in Mexico took an unbelievable arc that I never imagined when I started,” he says. “I originally thought I was telling a story of good versus evil, citizens rising up against the murderous villainous cartels. But the story shifted and became murkier, darker. It turned into a much greater story in scope where the lines between good and evil became quite blurry.”

Heineman shot the bulk of the film himself on a Canon C300. “I could not speak more highly of the C300,” he gushes. “There’s no way we could have made this film otherwise. Through torrential rain, windstorms, dust storms, guns, the camera never failed. I used the body of the camera–no huge rigs–and two different lenses. I had to be mobile and I love the beautiful cinematic quality we got.”

Read the full story here.

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