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Narco Cultura - Film Review
by Karen Pecota

Veteran war photographer and filmmaker Shaul Schwarz gives an up-close and personal reportage of an ever growing subculture of the Americas in Narco Cultura.

The films’ title refers to the culture created from a world of drug traffickers--narco-culture or narcocultura. This world battles over territory, narcoscapes, also known as drug war zones. A variety of drug cartels and the state on both sides of the border fight against one another for control over these territories. Lucrative passage ways for drug products to reach the United States (the largest buyer) is only one of its battlegrounds. Control and power is the name of the game. If you can 'show the money' it is impressive to a country that is poverty stricken and war torn. Intervention is needed to stop or even slow down the war on drugs across the Mexican-American borders. Schwarz gives his audience a picture into a conflict on the rise.

Schwarz, a renowned photojournalist, uses the eye of the camera as his tool to tell a story that can no longer be ignored. Nor will the issue the story tells be going away any time soon. Schwarz's film is as educational as it is a call to action. The answer to the call to rally remains to be seen.

In 2008, Schwarz started his portfolio of still photography of the never-ending violence in Juarez, Mexico--an area known for brutality, kidnapping and extreme corruption. Two years of intense documentation was enough. Schwarz said, "I was overwhelmed." He adds, "At that point, I knew that simply continuing to show pictures of death, violence and crime scenes would not tell the full story." It was time he put his photography into a moving picture and put a face on the lives of those struggling to survive each and every day. He continues, "It is not a faraway issue that only happens across the border. It is our issue and we are all a part of the narrative and its outcome."

The film is shot from a single photographer’s perspective, capturing the emotion of human conflict with clarity and precision. His art of filmmaking provides an image (both literal and figurative) for the realities and the pain experienced within the confines of the drug war zones. Schwarz follows two fascinating people entangled in the drug war: a Los Angeles narcocorrido (folk songs) singer dreaming of stardom and a Juarez, Mexico crime scene investigator fighting every day against Mexico's Drug War.

The folk singer uses his music to support the narcocultura as a way out of the ghetto and into the American dream by way of addiction to money, drugs, and violence. The lyrics to the songs pump-up the idea that violence from the narco-traffickers should be praised and uplifted as their post-modern role model for success. The Narco Club scene in the United States is gaining popularity and a growing concern even for Mexico's law enforcement.

The infiltration of the narcocultura into the United States is not a surprise but the popularity of violence it represents is alarming according to Schwarz's research. He feels that without a doubt, the generations to come will be socially impacted by this conflict. He ponders, "Do we want a generation that believes organized crime is the only way?"