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Meet the 2013 Sundance Filmmakers #10: Shaul Schwarz Goes to the Front Line of Mexico's Drug War in 'Narco Cultura'

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire January 9, 2013 at 1:24PM

Israeli-born Shaul Schwarz, a New Yorker since 1999, has been photojournalist for 20 years focusing on conflicts and their effects on society. In 2008 he began photographing the violence in Juarez, Mexico. "After two years," he told Indiewire, "I was completely overwhelmed. At that point, I knew that simply continuing to show the pictures of death violence and crime scenes will not tell the full story. So I set out to make 'Narco Cultura.'" Though he never went to film school, Schwarz says his experience in the field as a photographer -- producing content under fear and danger -- was "hugely beneficial in learning the craft of filmmaking."
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Shaul Schwarz

Israeli-born Shaul Schwarz, a New Yorker since 1999, has been photojournalist for 20 years focusing on conflicts and their effects on society. In 2008 he began photographing the violence in Juarez, Mexico. "After two years," he told Indiewire, "I was completely overwhelmed. At that point, I knew that simply continuing to show the pictures of death violence and crime scenes will not tell the full story. So I set out to make 'Narco Cultura.'" Though he never went to film school, Schwarz says his experience in the field as a photographer -- producing content under fear and danger -- was "hugely beneficial in learning the craft of filmmaking."

What It's About: "To a growing number of Mexicans and Latinos in the Americas, narco-traffickers have become iconic outlaws, glorified by musicians who praise their new models of fame and success. They represent a pathway out of the ghetto, nurturing a new American dream fueled by an addiction to money, drugs, and violence. 'Narco Cultura' is an explosive look at the drug cartels’ pop culture influence on both sides of the border as experienced by an LA narcocorrido singer dreaming of stardom and a Juarez crime scene investigator on the front line of Mexico’s Drug War."

What It's REALLY About: "It is a film about two men and how their lives descend as they become more involved with the monstrous effects of the drug cartels. It's a different look into the ongoing American-Mexican Drug war. It shows how the cycle of drugs coming north, with guns and money going south, crushes lives everywhere while creating a culture that affects millions of people beyond the 60,000 people who have already died."

"Narco Cultura"
Sundance "Narco Cultura"

The Chief Challenge: "Getting access while staying safe. We were always pushing to get through the character stories to the heart of the drug war, and for that we had to win their full trust. After we did that, we had to be there with them in terrifying moments. Even more than that, we had to figure out what we "don't want to cover". It was clear that in order to stay safe and not endanger others we had to put lines in the sand. That would later ring even more true in the editing room as well. There are many scenes that did not make the cut because we believed they might endanger someone."

I Want You To Feel What I Felt: "In terms of emotions, I want the audience to walk away with the same helpless and broken feeling that I felt in the last 4 years of covering this. I hope they see that the drug war is not some far away issue that is foreign to them and just happens across the border; but rather our issue and that we are all a part of this. I hope that they understand that if we continue to deny it, it's not going to go away. On the contrary, the new generation will be socially impacted as never before. Is that what we want, a generation that believes that organized crime is the only way? Can we really keep looking at our failed policies and say that this is as good as it gets?"

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2013 festival.

Keep checking HERE every day up to the launch of the festival on January 17 for the latest profiles.


 

This article is related to: Meet the 2013 Sundance Filmmakers, Sundance Film Festival, Festivals, Narco Cultura