Often, documentaries about issues that are political in nature tend to repeat themselves in their messaging and approach. Director Rodrigo Dorfman’s documentary, Bulls and Saints, part of the PBS series POV, is one such film.
The movie opens with the popular saying, “The bulls throw you to the ground. The saints lift you to the skies.” It’s the story of an undocumented immigrant family living in North Carolina. Tacho is the father. His wife is Cecilia. The couple have a few children. Tacho works day-to-day to earn a living wage for his family, and on the weekends, he is part of the local rodeo.
Tacho and Cecilia are about to embark on a major crossroads in their life. The two have decided to return to their hometown of Cherán, Mexico. But the journey home has just as many problems as their journey to the United States. The move is expensive, and they must build a large nest egg to invest in building their new home.
It’s here that Bulls and Saints becomes your not-so-typical illegal immigration story. Though moving home is the narrative throughline, filmmaker Dorman takes a moment to compare Tacho’s life in the United States with that of his mother, Theresa, who stayed behind.
“…embark on a major crossroads in their life. The two have decided to return to their hometown of Cherán…”
Tacho and Cecilia talk about her childhood in Cherán. Their families owned land, and in order to eat, they had to grow the food and raise the livestock. It was a day-to-day grind, and the pair needed to escape. When they arrived in North Carolina, Tacho had to work every day to earn money. If he didn’t make money, no one ate.
Meanwhile, in Cherán, seven years prior, illegal loggers began cutting down trees, and in fear of the town’s water spring drying up as a result, the village stood up against the loggers. Though successful in fighting them back, Tacho’s father was killed.
Bulls and Saints takes an almost cinéma vérité approach to its subjects. Dorfman follows Tacho, Cecilia, and Theresa, capturing their day-to-day life. Tacho is on the job and preparing for the upcoming rodeo. Theresa is with the kids, playing basketball and preparing food for the rodeo. Theresa has become a leader in Cherán amongst the townsfolk, especially the women. We also see her partake in Latin mysticism ceremonies.
As black and white as the immigration issue has become politically, we must also remember the stories behind those caught in the middle of the debate. The problem will never be solved until we uncover the truth of the issue from both sides. Bulls and Saints shines yet another light on a complex issue.
Bulls and Saints premieres on the PBS American Documentary series POV on September 18, 2023.
"…shines yet another light on a complex issue."