El Mar La Mar
Diana Ruíz is a PhD candidate in the Department of Film and Media at UC Berkeley. Her dissertation is entitled "Resources of Perception: Visuality and Power at the U.S.-Mexico Border."
A timely and altogether mesmerizing portrait of place filmed in 16mm, Joshua Bonnetta and J. P. Sniadecki’s lyrical documentary is best described as being from, rather than about, the Sonoran desert. The US–Mexico border looms as an unspoken presence, the better to train our attention on the landscape’s primordial drama: hillsides burning through the night, bats flooding a cave, and a borderless sky—and deadly lack of shade—in all directions. The enveloping soundtrack is itself an epic poem of wind, gunshots, helicopters, and radio signals. Nestled into this sensory detail are firsthand accounts of the borderland and its crossings. Crucially, the speakers are not named, credentialed, or even pictured; periodically the image goes black, and we find ourselves listening to their stories as if around the campfire. Haunted by things left unseen and people left behind, El Mar La Mar gives every impression of walking hallowed ground even as it recognizes its own complex kinship to the activists, border agents, and self-appointed patrollers following the tracks of migrants. Refreshingly, though, Bonnetta and Sniadecki’s patient filmmaking suggests that we reserve judgments until we know something of the terrain.