An excerpt from the booklet essay by Patrick Gamble
An avant-garde study of perhaps the most politicised stretch of land in the world, El Mar La Mar is less concerned with the desert’s role as a site of passage, but what it has come to represent. Borders like this are inseparable from violence. They divide families, fuel racial division, and reinforce economic disparities. Like almost all borderlands, the Sonoran Desert has been the site of many bloody disputes. The current route of the frontier was established in 1848 and 1853 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Gadsden Purchase following the end of the Mexican–American war, but the desert’s violent history is nothing compared to the suffering of the thousands of people who have died here due to The US Border Patrol’s decision to deliberately turn this stretch of land into a deathtrap.
In 1994 the United States Border Patrol formally implemented the immigration enforcement strategy known as ‘Prevention Through Deterrence’, a set of policies designed to discourage undocumented migrants from attempting to cross the US/Mexico border by closing off established routes. The explicit aim was to push the thousands of migrants fleeing north to escape poverty and violence towards more remote, hostile terrain; with policy-makers assuming they would soon stop once they realised how dangerous crossing the desert is. They were wrong!
Every year thousands of undocumented migrants attempt this journey through the desert, hoping for a better life in the US. However, the terrain is treacherous and the conditions extreme. The sun beats down mercilessly on all those who attempt the crossing, with temperatures reaching up to 48°c during the summer months. This arduous journey can take anywhere from three to five days, but the Sonoran Desert exists outside of normal time. It is a place of exile, of purification and for those looking for a route to illegally enter the United States it is a gauntlet which often condemns those who attempt it with a grim and uncertain fate.
An arid borderland that has evolved over time to be inhospitable to human beings, Trump could only dream of building a border defence system as effective as the Sonoran. It is populated by large clusters of cacti, drought-resistant plants and a wide variety of deadly reptiles, birds and mammals. ‘Everything out here is trying to hurt you…’ explains one interviewee as he describes the terrifying range of natural predators lying in wait for those attempting to cross the desert. ‘The bugs, plants and insects are all poisonous’ he continues ‘Everyone has their own little defence mechanism out here.’
A cauldron of nocturnal noises designed to disorientate and confuse us, the film’s polyphonic sound design alludes to some of these hidden dangers. You might gradually get used to the sound of the wind as it rustles through the dry trees of the desert plains but it's impossible to ignore the occasional howl of a coyote or the screech of a hawk. Then there are the man-made sounds; the helicopters that prowl the night sky looking for undocumented migrants, the crackle of camp fires and even the occasional gunshot. By paying close attention to each of these sounds Bonnetta and Sniadecki bring this seemingly uninhabited landscape to life.
Patrick Gamble's complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the release.
Blu-Ray & DVD Reviews
Sight and Sound
The Geek Show
Little White Lies
New York Times
i. How to cross the US-Mexico border: making El Mar La Mar
ii. J.P. Sniadecki by Nicolás Pereda
iii. 15 Questions: An interview with Joshua Bonnetta
iv. Deserts of Polyphonic Longing
v. How U.S. Policy Turned the Sonoran Desert Into a Graveyard for Migrants
vi. The Migrant Trail
USA / 2017
El Mar La Mar: 95 minutes
Special features: 27 mins
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 /
Dual Mono 2.0 LPCM
Colour / Black and white
Original aspect ratio: 1.66:1
Language: English, Spanish
Blu-ray: BD50 /
1080 / 24fps
Region ABC (Region Free)
Release Date: 30 Jan 2023