Ghetto Documentary Analysis

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A third variant of ghetto documentary foreshadows from the onset that things always end badly in the ghetto. In this brand of ghetto film, the filmmakers “infiltrate” the communities they depict and acquire an insider’s views of marginality, gang life, and violence. Narrative emplotment is such that death is usually portrayed as inevitable and violence framed as virtually impossible to escape. Key examples of this variant are La Sierra: Urban Warfare in the Barrios of Medellín, Colombia (2005), by Margarita Martínez (1970-) and Scott Dalton (1969-), and La vida loca (The Crazy Life, 2008), by Christian Poveda (1955–2009). The former of these films is bookended with portraits of death—a cadaver thrown into a ditch and a dramatic funeral—while…show more content…
La sierra’s main protagonist, Edison Ocampo (“La Muñeca”) was killed during the course of filming, and the murder of photojournalist Christian Poveda speaks to the dangers involved in inhabiting and documenting conflict zones. It might not be a stretch to argue that both films garnered success in the wake of these deaths, as if these real deaths somehow sealed the films’ promise to examine real violence. The media hype surrounding both deaths seemed to validate the predetermined conclusion that the young gang members depicted are monsters, thus taking away from the films’ thought-provoking portrayal of gangs as entities that can sometimes protect and provide for communities when state structures…show more content…
Catalonian filmmaker Joan Cutrina and Panamanian documentarian Héctor Herrera codirected the documentary to denounce the urgent situation in Panama’s poorest urban neighborhoods and document it for Panamanians who “don’t accept reality.” The film’s story line is neither chronological nor guided by a predetermined argument. Instead, it offers a fragmentary view of various aspects of barrio life in three segments: “El gueto,” which features young reggaeseros (performers of reggae en español) who use their lyrics as a form of protest and survival; “Fat,” a segment on drugs and violence named after the cadaver collector who acts as its protagonist; and “Crazy Killa,” an intimate view of gang life guided by the gang leader, Lolo. Like in the cases of La Sierra and La vida loca, raw footage was acquired when the filmmakers’ infiltrated several canal barrios. Herrera, who left Panama after the 1989 U.S. invasion, was able to gain access to El Chorrillo thanks to his friendship with Fat. In an interview, Herrera claims that “a great deal of the movie has to do with me; it’s a mirror of what might have become of my life.” Herrera’s positionality, akin to what Michael Renov calls a “domestic ethnographer,” is of vital importance for considering the tension that unfolds in the film among a desire to document the fallout of the

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