When a person leaves behind all that is known to them and starts looking for a different future, they are also willing to face risks. The problem is that, when you have to face them through a dessert with your bare feet, the chances might not favor you.
Border South is a documentary about undocumented migration, indeed, but it is one where the focus is on the relationship with the soil. The soil in which migrants boil water in a Coca-Cola plastic bottle to make coffee. The dirt and sun that turns any clothing fabric white and embraces the corpses of those who don’t make it to their destination.
In Border South, we see three stories braided into one: the journey of a group of migrants traveling and sleeping along the rails of the train; an anthropologist, Jason De León, that works on recovering lost artifacts and the remains of the migrants who lost their lives trying to make it to the U.S., and Gustavo Lopez Quiroz, a Nicaraguan migrant injured by Mexican authorities.
The documentary, directed by Mexican immigrant filmmaker Raúl O. Paz-Pastrana, gives us only an introduction to those stories and perspectives and offers no closure. But it can not be in any other way. A documentary, however long or well constructed, is a finite piece of work. Migration, instead, is an ongoing process that, at any moment, might take an unexpected turn.
Following the group of migrants walking along the rails, we empathize with their exhaustion; but we marvel at their resilience and ingenuity.
Listening to Gustavo, we feel the tension of going to a hearing to get a humanitarian visa from the Mexican government, witness the painful resignation he has in not knowing what happened with his travel partner, and hope he will make it to the U.S.
Jason’s story contrasts with the other two because he connects deeply with the bravery and pain of the migrants and the family members looking for them and seems to feel the unbridgeable distance from being part of the academic world.
Jason teaches anthropology and tries to teach his students how to use an object to listen to the voice of those who can no longer speak. When he is not in a classroom or an archive, he walks through the desert, looking for traces that will whisper the story of their former owners. During the documentary, we see Jason struggling to find the trail of a lost teenager, whose family in Ecuador is trying to find.
Border South will not show you anything definitive about undocumented migration. You find that, like a companion you meet while making such a long walk, you just get to share a part of the road with them, eventually having to let them go.
Border South is streaming for free on worldchannel.org