Archive for March, 2009

In the Mail

Posted in Documentary Films, Michael Hemmingson, Tijuana on March 25, 2009 by zonanorte09

Mailed 10-page contract/agreememt today, so we’re officially on track.

Mailed/fax letter to Tijuana Mayor, Mexican Counsulate, State Dept., and Homeland Security.


350 More Agents Sent to Border

Posted in Documentary Films, Tijuana with tags , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2009 by zonanorte09

Today, the U.S. Department of Justice, Homeland, and Obama announced they will increase the number of agents on the border.

Illegal aliens coming in has gone down, because of the lack of low wage jobs in this economy, but the drug cartel violence is spilling over into the states, more in the Texas/Arizona borderlines, where violence and kidnappings have spilled over.

“The violence is cartels against cartels, and against law enforcemnt,” U.S. Attorney Janet Napalitano told Neal Cavuto on Fox News today, “not cartels against tourists,” admonishing that Spring breakers  in Mexico stay in designated tourist spots so they won’t meet any unfortunate incidents.

Is it only a matter of time before all this finds its way into San Diego and various communities?  Or is it hype?  Many residents in Tijuana says it’s all hype, that the violence in the city is relegated to certain areas (such as Zona Norte), no different from any large city’s bad zones (such as San Diego’s Logan Heights/Skyline, or L.A.’s East L.A. or Compton, both areas where your average middle clsass white person would most likely be robbed/raped/killed, and would only be there “looking for trouble”).  Some comments on my Reader article reflected this; others reflected has experiences: robbed by corrupt TJ cops, etc.

Is this more fear infused by the gov. to maintain “control” and to move troops into civilian areas?

This is true, from observation and experience: Tijuana is a ghost town, people are deserpate to get money down there, the cops are corrupt and rob Americans, the city is like Vaghdad with troops and heavily armed Federales patroling all over.  I began my research in November, 2006 and have watched things get considerably worse and dire.

As for what all this has to do with my documentary, it has everything to do with it: how your average person lives with, and makes a living, and finds meaning, in this environment within Tijuana’s most volitile sector of the city: Zona Norte.

Dry Run and Censorship

Posted in Documentary Films, Tijuana with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 24, 2009 by zonanorte09


Chris Morrow and I made a quick dry run trip down to Tijuana just to get a feel for the atmosphere. We didn’t go to Zona Norte, not yet, just the commerce area around the border entrance. The cars coming and going weren’t as scare as two weeks ago.  

We got some footage that can be used as intro and b-roll: kids selling candy, digging through trash, beggars, a mangy dog walking on three legs (he must have been hit by a car), traffic shots.

No hassle with the customs agents this time (they didn’t run my ID).

borderOn the bridge going back, however, taking some shots of the cars going in and out, with lone uniformed solider with a rifle standing by the entrance, two private security guys on the bridge told Chris she had to erase what she was shooting. These were not gov. agents, CBP agents, Homeland, or whatever, but Wakenhut security guys (probably one of the most questionable agencies around, next to Blackwater). We complied, not wanting to cause any problems for ourselves. I said we had Press IDs but they said w ehad to have an apprival letter from FPS (Federal Protection Services) to photograph anything via the bridge and within a certain area.

Later, we figured we could have claimed freedom of press, censorship, etc. etc. Next time we’ll look out for them.

But let this blog be public note: the U.S. government has hired private security to usurp the First Amendment on the border.




Posted in Documentary Films, Tijuana with tags , , , , , , on March 20, 2009 by zonanorte09



The international media paints a dark picture of Tijuana, Mexico  — full of drug cartel violence, third world poverty, corrupt politicians and police, clubs where American teenagers can party, and one of the most notorious red light districts in the world: known as Zona Norte or Zona Roja.

With a global reputation  similar to Bangkok or Hamburg, Tijuana’s three-block radius Zona Norte is crammed with streetwalkers, brothels, stripper clubs, and massage parlors, along with crime and constant patrols of police, federal agents, and the Mexican military.

norte21This short documentary aims to reveal, in images and mini-interviews, a typical day in this part of Tijuana, with a focus on people who earn a living around the sex trade but not in the sex trade: the outdoors taco stand vendor, the shoe-shine men, the café owners.  The area often has children playing accordions for money, or children running around and playing for fun, zig-zagging about the hundreds of streetwalkers, or las parditas.  Prostitution is not hidden in Tijuana: it is legal, culturally acceptable, and a significant part of Tijuana’s tourist trade revenue. But what of those who make a living around them?  What are their lives like?  Why have they chose to work among the hookers?  This documentary engages such inquiry.

Flagged at Customs and Border Patrol

Posted in Documentary Films, Michael Hemmingson, Tijuana with tags , , , , , on March 9, 2009 by zonanorte09

picture-004Today, for the first time ever, I was sent to secondary at the border when returning from Tijuana. This was in the foot traffic section. I was told I had been “flagged” yet they would not tell me why. The guy at secondary punched some stuff in the computer and said, “This is for your own best interest.” Still, he would not say why I had been flagged.

I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before.

Also, there was hardly a line, like two weeks ago, and hardly any cars going back in, which was weird, there are always a long line of cars…I asked one agent about this and he said, “Don’t know, something is going on.”

Tijuana is becoming more and more of a ghost town. National news claims that some drug cartels are merging — instead of fighting each other, they are joining forces to fight the Mexican army and the U.S. troops in the Texas/Arizona regions. It’s big money — like any two big competing companies, sometimes it is more profitable to consolidate

The Start

Posted in Documentary Films, Michael Hemmingson, Tijuana with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2009 by zonanorte09

hem21I have been given the green light/micro grant to shoot a short documentary film for Real Ideas Studio for a program of international short docs that will be screened at Cannes Film Festival this May.

The doc will be about lives in Tijuana’s zona norte — the street vendors, the street walkers, the children playing in the gutter…an extension of the research I did in my book and continued research I have been doing for the San Diego Reader and for another book I am working on. A short doc seems like a logical extension. I am keeping a separate blog here to chronicle the process of making this little film.

My camera person/editor is Chris Morrow who has taken photos for many of my Reader articles and other things. This may be a dangerous project, which is another reasons why I want to maintain this blog, in case “something” happens.

If for some reason this blog is not updated through March, April, and May, something happened. We have to get the film in by May 1 for the festival, which is Mid-may. It’s supposed to only be 5-min. That may seem easy, but the difficulty will be what NOT to put in to make the time.