Exile Nation: The Plastic People

Dragon, a deportee in this photo by Chris Bava

When Chris Bava, a prolific traveler and photographer with an opiate addiction decided to try a replacement therapy in Tijuana to get clean, he wandered into a scene he had no idea about. Millions of Mexicans, immigrants to the USA as children, arrested after whole lifetimes of being American and dumped on the border of the USA and Mexico.

These deportees, stripped of ID and any hope of work, these people know nothing of Mexico and live in The Canal, a ditch that runs the fence to the USA, abandoned by both nations and infested with junkies, prostitutes and drug cartels.

Chris then decided to start photographing these people, known as The Plastic People, neither Mexican or American citizens. Turning to drugs for comfort, living in sewers and prostituting themselves, these people try to not die in an area called Zona Norte (North Zone) as Tijuana border police practice a harsh zero tolerance policy for all concerned on an endless nightmare of beatings, imprisonments and even murder.

Chris Bava in Tijuana

Charles Shaw, motivational speaker, author and now filmmaker turned his lens highly precariously and illegally to capture these people and their everyday lives, focusing on a group of men living in The Canal area as they try to dodge the “Operativo” and simply survive another day of horror.

Putting themselves on the front line using Flip cameras and even hiding behind trees, the men record some of the daily terror they must endure just to function as human beings.

Risking arrest or worse without a permit to film, Bava and Shaw enter the deepest parts of the system to explore why the USA is deporting at a rate of 400 people a day, and why 9/11 was instrumental in this process of paranoia and fear-mongering which still perpetuates in the Obama Administration. With a unit pre-9/11 called The United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) beefed up by Homeland Security to ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and CBP ( Customs Border Police), with two primary components, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), in the US today, as one former resident of the States testifies, after living there for 40 years, a simple conversation with police over a traffic ticket could result in deportation.

Charles Shaw is a fantastic cinematographer: even the opening titles are beautiful in the decay of Mexican border living: in fact Shaw and Bava take the audience down into this hell to find beauty: beauty and meaning in the lives of people forgotten by their countries – as a kind of life’s work in the case of Bava, since deceased before the completion of this film; seen as an angel by many stranded in these circumstances.

Shaw has revealed himself to not only be capable of story telling on the page of a book or from the chair of a lecture hall; but also to be poetic, succinct and neutral with a lens in front of his keenly peeled eyes. There is accomplished framing, editing and color flying out at the viewer, and above all, the skill most documentary makers dream of: carving a story of love and endurance from the fractured pieces of real lives. Wonderful, faultless, talented documentary making.

In short, this film is as important to American awareness as Bowling For Columbine, Into The Abyss or Super Size Me.

Highly recommended at any festival, venue or showing you can grab it.

Charles Shaw by Mario Covic

Charles Shaw is an award-winning journalist, editor, author of the critically-acclaimed memoir, Exile Nation: Drugs, Prisons, Politics & Spirituality (2012, Counterpoint/Soft Skull Press), and Director of the documentary films, The Exile Nation Project: An Oral History of the War on Drugs & The American Criminal Justice System (2011), The Plastic People (2013) and Visurreality (2013).
Exile Nation Website
Podcast with Charles Shaw

5 / 5 stars     

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