Archive for the Michael Hemmingson Category

Cannes, Watermelon, etc.

Posted in Documentary Films, Michael Hemmingson, Zona Norte with tags , , , on April 27, 2009 by zonanorte09

I have been alotted a two week all access pass to Cannes, but I cannot go.  (1) Time and projects here (2) funds and (3) no renewed passport factor in, plus, like Sundance, I’d rather attend Cannes when I have a feature flm in competition…whenever that day may come…

I want to screen a longer version of this doc at the San Diego Flm Festival, where my fictioin feaure, The Watermelon, had its debut last September, and will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray through Celebrity Video Distrib. in July.


Life in Zona Norte

Posted in Documentary Films, Michael Hemmingson, Tijuana, Zona Norte on April 24, 2009 by zonanorte09

This a tad rough, will smooth out the transitions…

Help from the Mexican Counsel

Posted in Documentary Films, Michael Hemmingson, Tijuana, Zona Norte with tags , , , , , on April 8, 2009 by zonanorte09

mexico_flag-wavingWe had a good metting with the Press Attache of the Mexican Counsel on Monday, April 6.  He asked for a letter that outlined the project and concerns, and said he would alert the Tijuana PR dept. and Police of our presence…hopefully this will put any police harrassment/theft/paying money in leiu of arrest.

He knew who I was, knew of my Reader article.  When I told him about the time the TJ cops robbed me or beat me up, he said, “Why didn’t you report it?”

“What good would that have done?” I asked.

He assured me that the govnerment was working on weedng out criminal behavior among their law enforcement, either local of federal.  I don’t know about that — those guys get paid scraps, getting cash out of tourists is how they make their living, right?

Or am I just jaded?

Of course, he is the press liaison and must put a positive spin on an igly reality: that most TJ cops are on the take.

Here is the letter I sent:

April 6, 2009


 Dear Mr. Gonzales:

Thank you again for your time and hearing Chris Morrow and I out regarding our documentary film project.

 As explained, the subject matter is “A Day in Zona Norte.”  Zona Norte is the red light district of Tijuana.  We are interested in filming the daily life of merchants and those making a non-sex trade living in the red light area: the taco stand fellow and/or the shoeshine men, as well as the street mariachi players.  We want to show that other modes of business occur in that area of Tijuana that has a “certain” reputation.

 The film is an extension of my two years of anthropological research and observations in Zona Norte, an ethnography for my doctoral dissertation, published last year by Cambridge Scholars as Zona Norte: An Auto./ethnography of Desire and Addiction.

 This short documentary is being financed by Real Ideas Studios, a company in San Jose, CA that is also producing six other short documentaries with an international flavor that they will screen at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. You can read about the program at this website:

Our main concern, and request from the government of Mexico and Tijuana officials, is trouble with law enforcement, both the Tijuana Municipal Police and the Federales.  During my research in 2006-2008 in Zona Norte, I have, several times, been robbed, physically assaulted, and had my camera stolen by the police. It is our understanding that photographing or filming street prostitutes may be illegal or not encouraged; however, we do not wish to film/interview them, just the vendors and honest workers on the street, who work in the same area.

 Please note that we will take precautions not to film law enforcement or Mexican Army troops going about their duties, either.

 Thus, notification to the police substation in Zona Norte, and acknowledgement that Mexico government officials know we are down there, should avoid any sticky entanglements. We would like to conduct this project in Tijuana soon, between April 10-15; we will only require one day, 1-2 hours at most while down there.  We would not to object any representative accompanying us, as this will aide in our safety. We hope that, in the interest of good international relations, our safety can be assured. Our intent with this short documentary is to show a positive aspect of hard-working Tijuana residents in a volatile area.

 I have written to Tijuana Mayor Ramos’ office about the project but have not heard back yet.

 Aside from the documentary, CNN may run a “making of the film” story, and I most likely will write about the experience in the San Diego Reader.

 There will be two people on this project, both U.S. citizens: myself, Michael Hemmingson, and Chris Morrow, who will be acting as camera operator. I will direct, narrate, and carry out interviews. I will most likely hire a cab driver or someone in the area to assist with translating.

 I am a staff writer for the Reader and a cultural anthropologist and journalist, having reported from Bosnia, Rwanda, and Somalia in the 1990s for the Associated Press.  I  have published 49 books of fiction and non-fiction.

Chris Morrow is a freelance photo-journalist whose work has appeared in the Reader and who is a stringer for

 We look forward to working with you and thank you for your assistance.



Michael Hemmingson


Cannes Short Film Corner

Posted in Documentary Films, Michael Hemmingson with tags , , , on April 4, 2009 by zonanorte09

Real Ideas Studio will screen this doc, along with the others, at the Cannes Short Film Corner.

The Corner works like the market at some festivals — the films are no in competition nor were they picked by a committee. This is where people get competion funds, sell foreign rights, make deals, etc.

“Do You Want to Get Yourself Killed?”

Posted in Documentary Films, Michael Hemmingson, Tijuana, Zona Norte with tags , , , , , , on April 4, 2009 by zonanorte09

vixen-mayor-tijuana-jorge-ramosStill waiting to hear back from TJ Mayor Jorge Ramos’ office.

Monday morning, Chris and I have a meeting with with press attache of the Mexican General Counsel, whose offices are in Little Italy (a San Diegio neighborhood, right next to the Reader offices actually).

Not sure if they can help or not.

When I returned from TJ yesterday and told the CHP officer, while cming back in, I was there for research, and showed him my Press ID, he said, “Whoa, are you kidding?!  Do you want to get yourself killed?”  I told him I’d been doing research in TJ since late 2006 and while I had run into a few problems with the local cops, nothing too dangerous had come my way.

“Things are very bad right now,” he said. “You be careful.”

For some reason, I do not like the sound of that.

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.

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