Category Archives: Central America

Politics and a Struggling Coal Town

A horse grazes in front of the smoke stacks of a coal refinery in Nueva Rosita, Coahuila.

A horse grazes in front of the smoke stacks of a coal refinery in Nueva Rosita, Coahuila.

Mexican politics is often one giant quagmire of corruption, mistrust, and nepotism, the likes of which are hard to understand for anyone growing up in a country with a stable political climate. The average Mexican has next to no faith in their government, and decades of deception, embezzlement, and greed has done little to change this. And so in true form, the upcoming elections in the summer of 2018 are set to be a contentious and scandal-filled race in which working-class Mexicans will be prodded and coerced to vote for candidates who will likely do very little to help them once in office.

Cristina Auerbach, an activist for miner’s rights, stands for a portrait in front of newly constructed memorial crosses for deceased miners in Nueva Rosita, Coahuila.

A man looks at the monument for the 65 miners who died in the Pasta de Concho mining disaster in front of the Mexico City stock exchange.

As an outsider who is just starting to learn the complexities of Mexico and it’s political system, I am always eager to learn more about the country I now call home. So when Buzzfeed News asked me to travel to Coahuila, a northern state bordering the US, I said yes immediately. I won’t try and explain all the complexities of this story because the journalist Karla Zabludovsky did a better job than I ever could, but it is definitely worth reading.

Set against the backdrop of a failing coal mining town, Nueva Rosita, and a disaster that claimed the lives of 65 miners, this story has all the political intrigue that one might expect from Mexico. Plus I was able to shoot purely stills for this, which after the back pain from carrying video equipment around for the last several years, is a nice change!

Elvira Martinez sits for a portrait inside her father’s home in Palau, Coahuila. Her husband, Jorge Vladimir Muñoz, was killed in the Pasta de Conchos mining disaster that claimed the lives of 65 miners.

Benito Rosales lost two of his brothers, Amado and Juan Manuel Rosales, in the Pasta de Conchos mining disaster that claimed the lives of 65 others.

Two miners are seen silhouetted in the doorway of an abandoned mining structure in Nueva Rosita, Coahuila.

Memorial crosses for the 65 miners who died in the Pasta de Concho mining disaster stand n Nueva Rosita, Coahuila.

You can read the full story here 

Also posted in Blog, Environmental, Mexico Tagged , , , , |

Environmental Project with Buzzfeed Mexico

I’ve been working on the topic of extreme water shortages in Mexico City for nearly two years, and like many personal project I’ve had a tough time getting it out into the world. The scale of what I was proposing was difficult for the format of many publications, and the New York Times released a major project about a similar theme just as I was getting ready to publish, making it doubly hard to find a publishing partner!

But just as I was about to give up hope of ever seeing this story in the world, I was introduced to the very motivated and enthusiastic team at Buzzfeed News. After looking over the various angles involved in the story of Mexico City’s urban drought, we decided to focus on a group of volunteer women in Iztapalapa working to make a bad situation slightly more bearable for their community. Since I spent a great deal of time with these women and knew that they were getting next to no exposure for their efforts, I was more than happy to profile them in a major international publication.

It’s been a long road to getting the first part of this story out into the world and I’m grateful to the talented journalists and editors at Buzzfeed News (not the “top 5 cutest cats on the internet” side of the business!) for their belief in the project.

You can see the full article here

Also posted in Blog, Environmental, Mexico, Water Tagged , , , |

When We Meet Again – Newest Americans Project

I’ve been an admirer of The Newest Americans project since Ed Kashi introduced it to me almost two years ago, and I’ve been following the work of it’s producers – Talking Eyes Media – since well before that. So when Julie Winokur and Talking Eyes reached out to me about working on a project together I jumped at the chance.

The news cycle has been so full of Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric recently that it’s all to easy to lose perspective on the fact that these statistics actually represent real individuals and families. The current American administration seems to be pouring much of its energy into vilifying Mexicans and fortifying its borders to make sure that Mexicans stay to the South. But in reality the border is an artificial construction and there will always be people flowing over it in both directions. And as long as more opportunity and wealth exists in the United States, hard working Mexicans will follow. At the end of the day everyone is just looking to do the best for themselves and their families, and in this sense it is only logical for people to go where the money is. Yet because of the harsh immigration laws, the trip to the US is often a one-way affair and those who have made it across are unable to return home for fear of forever being locked out.

This is the premise of the story that Talking Eyes approached me with. A family of 10 sisters was divided between New York and their home state of Tlaxcala in Mexico and all but one had at one point gone to the US in search of higher wages. At the time of production the family was roughly split in half between the two countries and neither side was able to freely travel back and forth to see each other. In fact some of the sisters had gone more than a decade without seeing each other, and even when their mother died they were unable to return for the funeral.

This story follows Gaby, the only sister to have never left Mexico, as she gains special permission to visit her family in New York following the death of their mother. But more than that it is a story about family and love. Enjoy!

Also posted in Blog, Mexico, Video

The Trade – ShowTime

When I first moved to Mexico and set up as a documentary filmmaker, one of the first questions anyone asked me was “have you seen Cartel Land?”. Once I’d watched it I knew why – it was one of the most interesting and hardest hitting documentaries I’d seen in a long time, and it did an incredible job of explaining the convoluted and complex relationship between drug cartels, the government, and the people caught in the middle. There were no heroes in this story, just truth.

So when the Academy-award nominated produced (and a fellow former Canadian tree planter) reached out to me about shooting a sequence for his unofficial follow up, I agreed immediately.

The Trade is a multi-part mini series set to launch on ShowTime in February, 2018, and from the advanced screenings I was able to see it is even more powerful than Cartel Land. The show follows a series of characters on both sides of the border as drugs and the conflicts they create impact their lives in unimaginable ways. I won’t try and explain all the complexities of a project that took years to do properly, but suffice it to say I was glad to play even a small role in making it happen. I don’t yet know which episode my work will feature in, but it doesn’t really matter – the show is so good that every minute is worth your time.

Also posted in Blog, Drugs, Mexico, Video

Mexico City’s Last Living River

An offering of fruit and flowers sits on the banks of the Rio Magdalena. Such offerings are typically made only near clean water, a resource in short supply in Mexico City.

An offering of fruit and flowers sits on the banks of the Rio Magdalena. Such offerings are typically made only near clean water, a resource in short supply in Mexico City.

For the last year and a half I have spent a great deal of time looking at the chronic water shortages in Mexico City and how it affects people living in North America’s biggest city. In the course of this work I discovered the tragic story of the Rio Magdalena and what it represents for the future of Mexico’s water woes.

Once a city lined with so many canals that it was often compared to Venice, any contemporary visitor to the Mexican capital will notice a conspicuous absence of water. There are no rivers flowing anywhere in the immense urban sprawl because they are all dead — which is to say they are too polluted to support life. All but the Rio Magdalena.

So when Foreign Policy reached out to me looking for ideas for their issue on climate change and the environment, the story of Mexico City’s last living river was a perfect match. For a week I walked the length of this river from its source to the urban sprawl at its terminus. What I found was deeply unsettling: a beautiful river supporting all manner of flora and fauna turned into a tepid trickle of sludge more or less as soon as it made contact with ‘civilization’.

Horses drink from the Rio Magdalena and graze on the grass that grows on its banks. As the last living river in Mexico City, the micro climate around the river is rare for the area.

Horses drink from the Rio Magdalena and graze on the grass that grows on its banks. As the last living river in Mexico City, the micro climate around the river is rare for the area.

A father and son cross the Rio Magdalena, a popular weekend destination for Mexico City urbanites.

A father and son cross the Rio Magdalena, a popular weekend destination for Mexico City urbanites.

A pair of old running shoes hang from the trees along the banks of the Rio Magdalena. Though the natural environment is far cleaner in the surrounding hills than in the city itself, human waste and interference is the greatest threat to the river.

A pair of old running shoes hang from the trees along the banks of the Rio Magdalena. Though the natural environment is far cleaner in the surrounding hills than in the city itself, human waste and interference is the greatest threat to the river.

A tree's eroded roots are covered in plastic that has washed ashore along the banks of the Rio Magdalena.

A tree’s eroded roots are covered in plastic that has washed ashore along the banks of the Rio Magdalena.

The Rio Magdalena passes under a series of bridges in the Fuentes del Pedregal neighbourhood of Mexico City. The deeper into the city the river goes, the more heavily polluted it becomes.

The Rio Magdalena passes under a series of bridges in the Fuentes del Pedregal neighbourhood of Mexico City. The deeper into the city the river goes, the more heavily polluted it becomes.

Also posted in Blog, Environmental, Mexico, Water

Farming Heroin with National Geographic Channel

A few months ago I had the opportunity to work with a talented team at the National Geographic Channel on this story about the heroin trade in Mexico. For a photojournalist and filmmaker, working for National Geographic had always represented the gold standard in documentary and so I was more than happy to join the team.

The full episode is available online or directly from the National Geographic Channel, but I wanted to share this short preview of the episode. It’s not every day that you get to work with such a great group of TV and video professionals, and some of the lessons I learned on this production I will carry over into all my future projects.

Also posted in Blog, Drugs, Mexico, Video Tagged , , , , , , , |

Post Earthquake Spirit in Morelos

After covering the earthquake damage in various zones of Mexico City, it became clear that the hardest hit areas were some rural towns closer to the epicentre of the quake where buildings were often made from adobe instead of concrete and rebar. Morelos, a state to the south of the capital, had reported multiple towns in critical condition, along with an unknown but growing number of casualties.

From the viewpoint of a videographer it was clear that we needed to go to Morelos, so a reporter from The New York Times requisitioned a car and we made the three hour drive to Jojutla.

As soon as we hit the town’s periphery it was obvious that the situation was critical. Roadblocks had been set up two kilometres away from the city centre to stop necessary traffic entering the damaged parts of the town and our vehicle was not allowed to pass. Only by hitching a ride with some locals in their beat up minivan could we get into the city, and for the rest of the day and into the night we tried to get a sense of the damage.

A local official estimated that 60% of the buildings had been damaged in some way, and many of them would never be fit to live in again. We met families picking their things from under the crumbled remains of their living room wall and others who had lost parents in the collapse. Entire street corners had fallen, bringing down as many as six homes at once. The devastation was massive, and the resources few.

But throughout it all the general spirit of the people seemed to be one of defiance and determination. “We will get through this,” was a phrase I heard more than once, and defined the mood of the day. Even though many of them had lost everything and the only home they’d ever known, they were already looking ahead to the rebuilding process.

“We are Mexico.”

Also posted in Blog, Disaster, Mexico, Video Tagged , , , , , , |

Documenting the Mexico City Earthquake

When I saw the news that Mexico City and the surrounding states had been struck by a powerful earthquake on September 19th, 2017, I was in JFK airport returning from a few weeks of meetings and visiting friends. In those first hours it wasn’t clear what the extent of the damage was, and so the plane took off for Mexico after only a short delay. It was when we landed, however, and the pilot announced we were stuck behind a backlogged queue of nearly 40 other planes, that I realized that maybe the situation was worse that I had thought.

The videographer/filmmaker part of my brain told me to immediately send emails to my contacts in the media, and luckily was able to connect with The New York Times. By the time I got out of the airport and through the gridlocked city it was nearly 3 am, so I closed my eyes for a few hours and prepared to get up with the sun.

I was planning to go and investigate the site of a collapsed school in the south of Mexico City, but no sooner had I jumped in a car with a few colleagues did we realize there was an incredible drama unfolding just two blocks from my apartment.

This kicked off more than a week of frantic coverage in a city that I have come to call home. Documenting a crisis in my own backyard, albeit an adopted one, was a new and difficult experience, but ultimately for me the earthquake was a narrative of selflessness and community spirit rather than of despair.

Volunteers poured into the streets in the thousands, and ordinary citizens opened their doors to help in rescue efforts. While the event was a horrific tragedy for Mexico City, the solidarity and social awareness displayed by the people who live here was inspiring to say the least. If such collective spirit could be put towards reforming other sectors of the nation, Mexico would be an even better place to live in no time.

 

Also posted in Blog, Disaster, Mexico, Video Tagged , , , , , , |