Reviewed by: Adam Micklethwaite

Every year more than half a million Central American people try to cross the Mexican border into the United States. Chema Rodriguez’s intelligent, touching and entertaining documentary follows three such illegal immigrants, seeking to make the journey from Guatemala to the Promised Land north of the Border.

It is also the story of a ‘coyote’, or human trafficker, named Marco, one of the many professional smugglers who ply their trade by creating fake identities for his clients and trying to help them get across the Mexican Border. The result is an impressive documentary, which spotlights this industry in human trafficking without passing judgement on the participants, following the challenges and setbacks which the group collectively face, but also witnessing the bond of shared humanity which forms between them.

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Rodriguez allows the history of the journey to unfold in a way that never feels manipulative or exploitative. We are present for the lows as well as the highs; the viewer is a fly-on-the-wall during some very bitter squabbles, but equally we see the lighter side of life on the road. Rodriguez is very careful to show moments of friendship, reunion, laughter, even flirtation, to highlight the unique and powerful bond which has been forged between these four very different individuals over such a short period of time.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the star of the show is Marco himself. The charismatic, paradoxical ‘coyote’ has apparently precious little regard for what others think about him or his line of work; indeed, he revels in the chance to be cast as the villain of the piece. When challenged about the unconvincing fake IDs he gives to his three paying clients, he merely shrugs his shoulders and utters his favourite, all-compassing indictment of society: “Everything is false”, as if this somehow justifies his every move. That said, he is certainly no straightforward villain. There’s no doubt that he’s in it for the money, but by the end of the film you feel very much that he’s also in it for the people themselves, that he does genuinely want them to succeed.

Spanish director Rodriguez is an experienced and dedicated filmmaker with a reputation for intelligent and pioneering social commentary and Coyote is no exception. This is is an impressive road movie with a difference, which gives a potent insight into the lives of its four protagonists, allowing us to see the trials and tribulations of their eventful journey towards the US border.

Coyote offers us a new perspective on immigration – that of the would-be illegal immigrants themselves, allowing us to see their lives and their journey towards America without asking us to pass judgement upon them. A film full of warmth and humanity placed alongside some challenging social commentary, this is a very worthwhile piece of cinema.

Reviewed on: 15 Mar 2009
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A documentary look at human trafficking from Central America to the US.

Director: Chema Rodriguez

Year: 2009

Runtime: 81 minutes

Country: Spain


BIFF 2009

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