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Film Review: 'Kingdom Of Shadows'

Sahil Kaur |
November 16, 2015 | 9:00 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

A tenacious and artfully crafted triptych, Bernardo Ruiz’s "Kingdom of Shadows" peers through the lenses of three unassociated individuals to produce an unwavering account of the U.S-Mexico Drug War’s pervasive effects across communities… and across borders.

Having spent over a year in filming and production, the full-length documentary follows an activist Nun, a former Texan smuggler, and a Homeland Security officer, bringing together varying narratives to reflect on the collective struggle that has emerged from these bodies in crisis.

Prompt to deconstruct conventional wisdom, the film commences with Sister Consuelo Morales, or in Ruiz’s own words, “the heart of the film.” Since 2007, over 23,000 civilians have “disappeared” amidst the cartel crisis, a number that hasn’t stopped increasing since. Based in one of Mexico’s wealthiest cities, Monterrey, Sister Consuelo works with families that have lost members due to these abductions. Whether she is offering spiritual guidance to console the devastated families or whether she is actively pressuring the state government to act, Sister Consuelo utilizes her power and public authority as a nun in a majority Catholic country to bring about justice.

The second voice in this tri-rhetoric belongs to Don Henry Ford Jr., a convicted American marijuana smuggler. Though Ford currently resides on a Texan ranch, much of his time is spent contemplating his past and the injustices that marijuana illegalization purports. He started off smuggling before the age of electronic surveillance but soon found himself in business with Los Zetas, a heavily militarized drug cartel. With Don’s “first-hand experience with one of the biggest drug bosses in narco history,” he purveys to the film a crucial historical context.

With both Mexican and American narratives supplied by Sister Conseulo and Ford, Ruiz felt he “needed a bridge between the two countries.” Much to his avail, Ruiz met with Oscar Hagelsieb, who started as an undercover agent but now works as Senior Homeland Security Officer in El Paso, Texas. Raised by undocumented immigrant parents in a drug infested neighborhood, Hagelsieb bridges the gap between the narratives of US and Mexico quite well.

Ruiz’s creates an informative and pressing discourse through each of the characters narratives supplied with the state of alarm that inhabits Mexico today. The film recently achieved global attention with the disappearance of 43 college student protestors in Guerrero, Mexico just last year.

Ruiz looks beyond dialogue to further purport the film’s narrative as he collaborates with his masterful cinematographers. He was careful to purvey a dialogue through his filmmaking, suggesting it “gives you the subtle sense that there are darker forces at play that are bigger than any one individual.”

One of the film’s main objectives is to urge American audiences to realize their relevance in the drug war as opposed to distancing themselves from it, “My perspective is that the people of Mexico can’t fix this problem entirely on their own… we in the United States need to think about our responsibility in this conflict as consumers.”

"Kingdom of Shadows" will open at the Downtown Independent in Downtown Los Angeles, Laemmle's Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, and in New York and select cities around the country on November 20. The film will also be available on VOD.

Reach Staff Reporter Sahil Kaur here.



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