Dan Glynn’s documentary, In The Shadows, focuses on some of the immigration issues facing the United States. Using Jairo, a Mexican immigrant working on dairy farm to support his family back home, as a touchstone, the film offers up firsthand accounts and personalizes immigration politics. The film also takes a look at some of the broader issues, including whether the borders should be open or closed, the economics involved, the difficulties of policing those borders and the dangerous situations facing many who immigrate to the United States from Mexico.
It may seem crass to mention it, but this film also showed me far more imagery of hands lodged in cattle orifices than I’d ever thought I’d see in my life; the opening where Jairo helps a cow during a complicated birth is but one instance. Again, though, this is how the film personalizes the immigration experience, which it expands upon with the tales of others who have immigrated to the United States, and the treacherous conditions that went along with that journey.
The film also approaches the political issue in a much more practical sense, as a picture is painted of an economy that is bolstered by immigrant workers, and how shutting the borders would cause massive repercussions. Thus a “look the other way” mentality flourishes, even with law enforcement, exemplified by the practice of not reporting workers, regardless of legal status, as long as they don’t cause trouble (get in fights, etc).
In a technical sense, the documentary is fairly rough and tumble. The main elements work well enough; it’s in focus, the edit makes sense, you can understand what people are saying. It lacks polish, but it gets its point across. Other technical aspects are problematic, however.
For one, there’s the subtitles. The film subtitles all English speakers in Spanish, and all Spanish speakers in English; fair enough for a mixed audience. This means the film has subtitles on the screen for most of its running time, which isn’t a problem in a general sense, however the way the subtitles are presented is distracting.
Instead of words that fit over the main picture, the subtitles are placed over a darker, semitransparent rectangular background that, while effective in separating them from the image to help you read them, also manages to intrude on the picture too much. Should the film have been handled with a matted presentation, with the subtitles below? Maybe. It’d certainly be more cinematic and friendly to the eye. The aspect ratio leads me to believe, however, that the film was created with a hope for a potential television distribution scenario.
Which might explain the running time too. Pushing fifty minutes, it’s a film too long to be a short, and too short to be a feature. Maybe it was hoping for that middle forties sweet spot for an hour long television program, but it’s really stuck in cinematic No Man’s Land otherwise.
In the end, In The Shadows offers a number of interesting perspectives on immigration, in particular where Mexico is concerned, that I had not thought about before. It’s a personable film that sometimes drifts in focus, but if you’re looking to humanize and personalize the politics of immigration, this is a nice place to start.
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