SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! At The Ready is a disturbing documentary. For people outside the U.S./ Mexican border area and unfamiliar with Texas’ cultural relationship with both guns and immigrants, the focus of the film will seem extreme: high School students in law enforcement classes. Even more bizarre is that after-school activities include a criminal justice club. The club organizes practice exercises on the finer points of drug raids, mass arrests, active shooter response, illegal border crossings, and other operations typically conducted by the Police, FBI, or Border Patrol. Specific skills taught include policing, handcuffs, and use of force, up to and including lethal force.
For students at Horizon High School in El Paso, Texas, this is all considered normal. Not only Horizon, but many area schools participate in this program. There are enough that extramural competitions are held, if your school can qualify for regionals. Essentially, this is Glee with guns (they are bright orange replica guns, but still).
With At The Ready, director Maisie Crow presents a thoughtful, non-judgemental look at policing education in the region through the eyes of several students. We walk in the shoes of Latinx students Kassy, Cesar, and Cristina for three different perspectives and paths through the program. The conflicts inherent in the program are clear, and it seems perhaps moreso from the outside, as we look on in horror when Cesar tells his father in Juarez, Mexico (just a few miles from El Paso) that when he works for Border Patrol, nobody will get a free pass to cross.
“…skills taught include policing, handcuffs, and use of force…”
Part of what happens is the dynamic of any cult/ gang—a sense of belonging, the leaders insisting that this group, and no one else, makes up your family. What the leadership would describe as esprit de corps has an outsized impact on younger minds, and this isn’t football or the lacrosse team. Another motivation is that Law Enforcement jobs can pay very well. A Border Patrol employee can go from high school to making $100K annually in 5 years if they do well, we are told.
The opportunity for the students and their families must seem to be the ultimate expression of the American dream, but at what psychological cost? How many trailers full of rotting corpses is that paycheck worth? Or children in cages? The notion is all the more obscene because the students are, themselves, Latinx. The mind boggles at the groupthink indoctrination that would lead someone to conclude that a job, or a country that barely acknowledges your existence, could take precedence over family.
At The Ready follows the students through their journey, and some of them are able to see the contradictions in what they’ve been told as they mature. They learn more about themselves and make surprisingly adult decisions that give us hope for their personal growth, both as individuals and as part of a culture. Crow has created a critical document for our times, and this groundbreaking film should be considered required viewing.
At The Ready screened at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
"…essentially, this is Glee with guns..."