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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Drugs > War > Children > Young Adults > La Sierra (Human Rights Watch/First Run Features)

La Sierra (Human Rights Watch/First Run Features)


Picture: C+     Sound: C     Extras: C+     Documentary: B



First Run Features’ underrated Human Rights Watch series continues with the Scott Dalton/Margarita Martinez documentary La Sierra (2004), a harrowing and poignant look at teens/young adults growing up in Medellin, Colombia and splitting up territory as part of one of two paramilitary groups for two rival political factions.  All this in a country best known (for all the worst reasons) for their famous drug cartel.  However, besides the exposing of their exploitation by unseen power elites, we also see that they are oblivious to some of the “tough guy Gangster” culture trappings that we hear and see bantered and boasted about in the U.S. and elsewhere.


As a matter of fact, since they are living it, they take it for granted and do not have to try so hard.  The result are innocents caught up in a mess they would have a greater chance of getting out of because first world media has not warped their minds to the idea that this is acceptable behavior and with opportunity could (would) even more likely choose a better way out.


The case compares it to City Of God and similar French and U.S. (think Larry Clark or the uneven Alpha Dog) films, but they can become quickly contrived imitating everything from Hollywood Gangster formula to Hip Hop clichés.  There are killings, but in a country where carrying submachine guns are as common as UPS deliveries, it sadly becomes too tolerated for its own good.  In the end, we learn much about the main subjects in depth and land up asking why they tolerate it and why the U.S. tolerates what it tolerates in youth violence.


One other common denominator.  The U.S. has, particularly since the 1980s, areas of poverty that resemble third world countries (think about infant mortality and all the social programs cut) and if you want to know what causes this kind of trouble to breed, know it is not the young adults alone.  After all, they do not manufacture the guns and process the drugs.  La Sierra ultimately echoes a worldwide problem and the failure of the great nations large and small to secure as much of the future for the next generations as possible instead of allowing a world where children sell and use drugs.  Some of it is personal choice, but to think it is entirely that is delusional.


The 1.33 X 1 image was shot in analog video and looks like news footage at first, but the combination of editing and more intimate moments finally give away that this is a documentary and shows us a place we have never really seen before, despite what we have heard.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 is surprisingly weak, despite the addition of music in post-production and the usually decent recording of dialogue.  Must be a production glitch.  Extras include text notes & text filmmaker biography, text on Human Rights Watch and six trailers including nor for this release.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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