With unprecedented access, Cartel Land is a harrowing look at the journeys of two modern-day vigilante groups and their shared enemy – the murderous Mexican drug cartels.
With unprecedented access, Cartel Land is a harrowing look at the journeys of two modern-day vigilante groups and their shared enemy – the murderous Mexican drug cartels. In the Mexican state of Michoacán, Dr. Jose Mireles, a small-town physician known as "El Doctor," leads the Autodefensas, a citizen uprising against the violent Knights Templar drug cartel that has wreaked havoc on the region for years. Meanwhile, in Arizona's Altar Valley-a narrow, 52-mile-long desert corridor known as Cocaine Alley-Tim "Nailer" Foley, a US veteran, heads a small paramilitary group called Arizona Border Recon that aims to stop Mexico’s drug wars from seeping across the US border. Filmmaker Matthew Heineman embeds himself in the heart of darkness as Nailer, El Doctor, and the cartel each vies to bring its own brutal brand of justice to a society where institutions have failed. Cartel Land is a chilling meditation on the breakdown of order and a devastating portrait of what can happen when citizens take the law in their own hands.
Directing Award and Special Jury Award for Cinematography, US Documentary, Sundance Film Festival 2015
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Human Rights Watch has been at the forefront of the public debate over Mexico’s “war on drugs,” documenting how the government’s policies against vicious drug cartels have fueled the climate of fear and lawlessness that allowed the self-defense groups to flourish in states like Michoacan. Our fieldwork across Mexico has exposed atrocities by soldiers and police as well as the failure of the authorities to ensure that victims of violence receive the justice to which they are entitled. We have pressed the government to rein in the vigilante groups and end abuses by state security forces. But much more needs to be done to break the cycle of violence and impunity that continues to devastate communities throughout the country.