Opening Borders of the Mind

The Gatekeeper delivers a dose of reality to life and death at the border

By Alisha M. Rosas
Published on LatinoLA: March 15, 2004

Opening Borders of the Mind

John Carlos Frey is used to his directorial debut, The Gatekeeper, being described as a ?small film.?

A film without special effects, big-named celebrities or advertising billboards, The Gatekeeper, opening on March 19, does not send a small message to its viewers, but instead, delivers a dose of reality on a subject that is often not a preferred topic of conversation: life and death at the border.

John Carlos Frey, who stars, wrote, directed and produced the film, portrays Border Patrol agent Adam Fields, a self-loathing Mexican-American officer who believes that many of society?s problems rests at the hands of Mexican immigrants. It is not until a right-winged operation goes wrong that Fields finds himself in an immigrant?s shoes ? being smuggled by ?coyotes? across the border and forced by them to work in a drug lab in Central California ? that he begins to see things from a new perspective. Throughout the film, he discovers that the very people he hated are the ones who defend, protect and care for him. He witnesses and comes to respect their sense of faith, endurance and humility under violent and what appear to be, hopeless situations.

The movie takes its name from Operation Gatekeeper, an immigration strategy designed in 1989 to decrease illegal immigration by making flat land, traditional border crossing more difficult. This tactic resulted in an increase in migrant deaths due to the hazardous terrain traveled on as alternative routes.

Frey, who wrote the screenplay for the film eight years ago, found it difficult to get Hollywood studios interested in a film that revealed what happens when migrants get to the United States. Hollywood executives suggested that Frey make the tale a love story. He refused and decided to fund the project himself.

Most low-budget films average at approximately $5 million upon completion. After taking a second-mortgage on his home, Frey was able to complete The Gatekeeper with $200,000, and proved, that more does not necessary mean better.

Frey interviewed more than 600 undocumented workers for the film. Their testimonies served as a foundation for the movie, providing first-hand accounts of what one experiences while making the journey to America. Some critics have discredited the film by stating that Frey?s portrayal of migrant struggle is exaggerated and far-fetched from reality.

?It?s hard for people to fathom the idea that what The Gatekeeper portrays is happening daily in America,? said Frey. ?It?s easier for us to accept it if it?s in a foreign country than to accept that it?s here.?

Born in Tijuana, Mexico and growing up in San Diego, within eyeshot of the border, Frey recalls immigrants hiding in his garage, sleeping under cars to avoid rain and running through his backyard from Border Patrol officers.

While a teen, Border Patrol agents deported Frey?s mother, a legal resident, while she took a morning walk. He remembers his mother calling him from a Tijuana holding cell. She had appeared brown enough for the officers to ignore her story - how she had lived in the United States for 30 years - and send her back to Mexico, where they felt she belonged.

His mother?s experience remained with him through college, where he studied film, and began to notice the lack of Latino representation in both movies and television. He thought of the many deaths that occur on the border daily, and felt that someone had to tell the story and shed light on a problem that roots from bad immigration policy and branches out with every one of the tens of thousands of migrants in pursuit of the American dream.

?I could not wait to change Hollywood?s opinion of my work or for the U.S. to change its immigration policies before bringing The Gatekeeper to the public,? said Frey. ?I would have been waiting forever. I want to promote awareness now.?

The Gatekeeper, MPAA rating: R
Running Time: 103 minutes
Exclusively at Laemmle?s Monica 4-Plex, 1332 Second St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9741
Laemmle?s Playhouse 7 Cinemas, 673 E. Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, (626) 844-6500

About Alisha M. Rosas:
Alisha M. Rosas encourages people to be aware of the issues concerning humanity today.

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