Two Views of La Frontera

A pair of documentaries offer different, but complementary views of life along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Seen through Chantal Akerman’s somber lens, la frontera — the U.S./Mexico border — is imposing and impenetrable. Nearly every story of an attempted crossing that she documents in From the Other Side ends in death — the rest in despair. Though the American economy thrives on undocumented labor, the hostility among border residents toward illegals remains staunch. As a pair of vigilante border guards in Texas tell Akerman, “There’s so many of them, they can take over and do a lot of damage here.”

These xenophobic Texans would likely view Hans Fjellestad’s Frontier Life, about Tijuana youth, as a cautionary tale. That city’s culture is a mélange of Mexican and American styles: musicians fusing traditional norteño elements with electronic music, auto racers customizing classic American cars for the drag strip. While the subjects of From the Other Side fixate on the border that divides the two countries, the youth in Frontier Life revel in its deterioration, in the linked economies, creative collaborations, and intense hybridization. As one Tijuana artist puts it, “Things happen here that could never happen in other places…. This is a giant laboratory.”