The U.S.-Mexico drug war is one many of us watch from a distance, but the documentary “Kingdom of Shadows” forces you to look at more closely than usual as it puts a human face on the damage it has left in its path. Director Bernardo Ruiz observes the ongoing conflict through the perspectives of three individuals: activist nun Sister Consuelo Morales who prods government officials to take action against the drug cartels who have kidnapped many people, Texas rancher and former drug smuggler Don Henry Ford Jr. who offers a descriptive context for the evolution of drug trafficking, and undercover agent turned Homeland Security officer Oscar Hagelsieb who offers a unique perspective on the U.S.’s role in the drug war. The majority of what we see takes place in Monterrey, a devastated and violence scarred town in Mexico that Oscar felt less safe to be in as compared to when he served as a soldier in the Middle East.
Watching “Kingdom of Shadows” is both deeply moving and unsettling as we see how vicious the drug war has become, and it makes the intense thriller “Sicario” feel all the more real and unnerving in retrospect. Bernardo takes a real close look at the cost of this war from both the U.S. and Mexico sides and gives us an unflinching look at the human rights crisis it has generated and which has only recently made international headlines. In a year that has given us one great and unforgettable documentary after another, “Kingdom of Shadows” is the latest that is deserving of your attention.
I was among a group of reporters who got to sit in on an interview with Bernardo Ruiz and Oscar Hagelsieb while they were in Los Angeles to promote “Kingdom of Shadows.” Bernardo also directed the documentary “Reportero” which chronicled a veteran reporter and his colleagues at a weekly newspaper challenging drug cartels and corrupt local officials during an unprecedented wave of violence against journalists in Mexico. Oscar’s life began in a drug infested neighborhood where he was raised by undocumented parents, and despite having been an undercover officer for several years, he explained why he was more than willing to show his face in this documentary.
Bernardo talked about the kind of resistance and challenges he faced in making “Kingdom of Shadows,” and he explained why he introduced Oscar the way he did in the movie. Oscar was asked how he manages not to take his work home with him, and he explained why the legalization of marijuana will cause the drug war to become even more violent.
Please check out the interview above and be sure to catch “Kingdom of Shadows” when it opens in theaters and premieres on VOD on November 20. It will be playing at the Downtown Independent in Downtown Los Angeles and at the Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 in Pasadena.