Matthew Heineman was determined that CARTEL LAND would tell a story of the drug cartels, and the private responses to them, that hadn’t been told before. To that end, he spent a year putting his own safety at risk in order to embed himself with private militias, the cartels themselves, and the victims caught in the cross-fire in order to get footage never before seen, and a story that shocks, challenges, and most of all, makes us question the response to these cartels all but taking over large swaths of territory on both sides of the Mexican-American border. Told without judgement, it is all the more powerful for its lack of deliberate sensationalism of a subject that doesn’t always provide clear-cut boundaries between good and evil, hero and villain.
When I spoke to Heineman by phone on July 7, 2015, my first question what perhaps the most obvious one. Why risk your life for the story? We went on to talk about what, if any, safety precautions he could take while being embedded, and what it was like to record someone talk about being traumatized behind any hope of recovery.
embedded with many of the factions, risking his life in more than one shootout to get his intimate, stark, and troubling footage. His previous work includes ESCAPE FIRE, an expose of America’s health care system.