“Cartel Land” reviewed, and Mammoth Lakes Film Festival awards

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. – Matthew Heineman’s documentary Cartel Land was the most viscerally exciting picture I saw at the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival, which ran May 27 – 31. This doc is not so much about Mexican drug cartels per se as it is about the resistance to them on both sides of the border. In Arizona, self-appointed, self-anointed border patrol vigilantes led by a grizzled vet named Nailer try to “protect” America from the drug dealers, as well as from undocumented workers heading to El Norte for what they hope will be greater opportunity. Which Nailer sees as fewer jobs at lower wages for would-be construction workers like himself.

South of the border Dr. Mireles leads armed resistance to the Mexican cartels, arming townspeople to stand up to them. Some of the scenes have a Magnificent Seven type vibe. If the vigilantes up north have a rightwing aura about them, as the Mexican vigilantes standup to the cartels, federales and military trying to disarm and disband them, they have a revolutionary feel to them. The film ponders who the good and bad guys really are, with unexpected twists and turns along the way.

This is yeoman filmmaking, done at great risk to the filmmakers, as well as the participants. Cartel Land deservedly won the MLFF’s “Bravery Award.”

Here are the other Mammoth Lakes Film Festival award winners:

Audience Awards

For Narrative Feature: They Look Like People, directed by Perry Blackshear. Suspecting that people are transforming into malevolent shape-shifters, Wyatt flees to New York City to seek out his estranged childhood friend, Christian. As the mysterious horrors close in on Wyatt, he questions whether to protect his only friend from an impending war, or himself. A genre-bending story about love, loyalty and living nightmares. The award winner was granted a GoPro camera.

For Documentary Feature: Omo Child, directed by John Rowe. For many generations people in the Omo Valley in southwest Ethiopia believed some children are cursed and that these children bring disease, drought and death to the tribe. The curse is called “mingi” and mingi children are killed. Lale Labuko, a young, educated man from the Kara was 15 years old when he saw a child in his village killed, and also learned that he had two older sisters he never knew who had been killed. He decided one day he would stop this horrific practice. Filmed and beautifully shot over a five-year period, we follow Lale’s journey along with the people of his tribe as they attempt to change an ancient practice. The award winner was granted a GoPro camera.

Jury Award – Narrative

This year’s MLFF Narrative Jury Prizes were selected by the panel of industry members Andrew Lazar, Kristanna Loken, and Larry Meistrich.

For Narrative Feature: Diamond Tongues, directed by Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson. “A masterful fusion of comedy and poignant drama and comedy, rooted in a disturbed but somehow very relatable character played with a remarkable intensity by Leah Goldstein.” The award winner was granted a $1,000 cash prize and a $10,000 credit from Panavision toward the rental of camera equipment.

Jury Awards – Documentary

This year’s MLFF Documentary Jury Prizes were selected by the panel of industry members Allison Amon, Yana Gorskaya, and Kathleen Kinmont.

For Documentary Feature: Autism in Love, directed by Matt Fuller. “The Feature Documentary award goes to a film that took our breath away with its lyricism, emotion and beautiful construction.” The award winner was granted a $1,000 cash prize and a RED camera valued at $20,000.

Bravery Award for Documentary Feature: Cartel Land, directed by Matthew Heineman.
“The jury would like to recognize one film at this year’s festival that simply cannot be ignored. A film that astounded us with its access and its artistry. A film made with unbounded courage and skill.”

Jury Awards – Short Films

These prizes were selected by the panel of industry members Kimberley Browning and Breven Angaelica Warren.

For Narrative Short: Una Nit, directed by Marta Bayarri. “With rich and layered performances, sharp editing and a constantly evolving tone, this emotionally complex narrative repeatedly makes us laugh, turns us on and ignites genuine fear.” The award winner was granted $500 cash and a GoPro camera.

For Animation or Documentary Short: Upon the Rock, directed by James Bascara. “This animation is innovative in its use of sound and technique to transport us into a surreal journey. It is cleverly full of visual surprises and complexity in storytelling.” The award winner was granted $500 cash and a GoPro camera.

Honorable Mention for Narrative Short: Tourist Trap, directed by Alana Purcell. “In this very innovative short we are offered a unique POV of a most intimate story. The stunning cinematography, stylized colors and textures, paired with an emotionally driven soundtrack shares a fresh portrait of a familiar city.”

Honorable Mention for Animation or Documentary Short: The Tide Keeper, directed by Alyx Duncan. “A classic story most creatively mixing mediums, blending them seamlessly with incredible precision. This timeless tale is masterfully crafted with complete originality and a beautifully executed vision.”

“Mammoth Lakes Film Festival is committed to screening new movies by inspired and innovative filmmakers.” For more info on Mammoth Lakes Film Festival see: http://www.mammothlakesfilmfestival.com/.




Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based film historian/critic and co-organizer of the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the Hollywood Blacklist.