Which Way Home

2009
Distributed by Bullfrog Films, PO Box 149, Oley, PA 19547; 800-543-FROG (3764)
Producer n/a
Director Rebecca Cammisa
DVD, color, 63 min.
Sr. High - Adult
Central American Studies, Latin American Studies, Multicultural Studies, Area Studies


Reviewed by Gary Handman, University of California Berkeley

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 9/20/2010

The images are haunting: a long Mexican freight-train lumbering through lush forests and green mountains, past hardscrabble fields, through sad, isolated whistlestops. On top of almost every rusted boxcar are groups of men sprawled out, smoking or talking, or simply watching the distant horizons. A closer look reveals that a large number of the riders are children. Like their adult compatriots, these young ones are risking the long and often tragically perilous ride in desperate hopes of finding escape from poverty and despair north of the border. We're told that as many as 5% of those hopping trains north are children traveling alone, and that as many as 100,000 kids from Mexico and Central America are apprehended yearly trying to cross into the US. These are the types of mind-numbing figures that tend to blur into abstractions when read in the daily news, easy to briefly ponder, lament, and quickly forget. The real accomplishment of filmmaker Rebecca Cammisa and her crew has been to replace these abstractions with unforgettable faces and personal histories. Unlike the majority of the abundant documentaries about US/Mexican border issues, Cammisa's film, while profoundly sympathetic to her subjects (she rides the rails right along side of them), steers clear of polemics and the over-heated rhetoric common to many of these. Instead, we follow the fate of kids like spunky 14 year-old Kevin from Honduras who dreams of working, seeing Manhattan, and helping out his mother back home. We meet Yurico, 17, a glue-sniffing street kid hoping to be adopted and "born again" in the US. We're introduced to tiny Honduran pals Freddy and Olga, cheerful 9 year-olds who are on the road north in hopes of reconnecting with their families in Minnesota (of all places!). Freddy and Olga share their excitement about the prospect of seeing snow for the first time, getting an education, and one day becoming doctors. The courage, resolve, and optimism of these kids is astounding, and often heartbreaking. Few of their dreams of escape seem ultimately to come true, and violence and death along the trail north is not uncommon. By the end of the film, most of the kids followed by Cammisa have either fallen off the filmmaker's radar completely (poor Freddy and Olga!) or have been deported back to their home villages and the cycle of poverty they were attempting to escape. If there's a small weakness in Cammisa's film, it is that there's a somewhat perfunctory feel about these sad codas. How, for example, did Kevin end up deported to Washington State instead of a geographically closer relocation facility? (Perhaps the 80 minutes version of the filmówhich I did not viewóreveals this mystery). Otherwise, Which Way Home is an exceptional documentary in almost every respect, including the gorgeous photography and elegant editing, and the moving score by James Levio. If I had my way, I'd make the entire Arizona legislature watch it twice.