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The Tijuana Project

February 16, 2013

Cinequest 2010


THE TIJUANA PROJECT is a heart breaking documentary about the garbage dump villages in Tijuana and the children who live in them.  It is the story of the families who live near and around the huge trash dumps, and who scour the garbage for treasures which can then be sold or turned in for money.  The film focuses on the children, and their laughter and game play is a strange juxtaposition against the hopelessness and despair of their life’s backdrop.

The Cinequest program claims the film is “NOT a story of despair and hopelessness,” but I am not sure I agree with this.  Methamphetamines and heroin are huge problems for the adult males in this village.  Crime is so bad that the local police will not enter the town cemetery to fight the drug dealers who do business there.  “This is a woman who lives in the ground,” says one of the children, pointing casually to a woman who is quite literally sitting INSIDE the trash in the dump.  The boy runs away laughing as she throws something at him.  Another man tells the story of his brother who was shot several times in the cemetery.  Somehow he was lucky enough to get help. “God saved him,” says the man as the camera pans over to his brother… who clearly did not get away scot free and has one eye missing or rolled back into his head.  I believe it could be debated whether God did this man a favor.

So while I see that the kids are full of laughter and grow up happily playing games amidst the trash in the dump, I don’t really see where their future lies.  Is this what they have to look forward to?  A nun who works with them explains that the families don’t understand the importance of higher education, but I don’t understand how the kids are supposed to obtain this higher education.  There is a positive side in the film when a children’s theater group is organized and all the kids are encouraged to participate in the group and the parade it puts on.  But there is also a downside when it is discovered that the dump is going to be moved to make room for construction, thereby removing one of the only dependable sources of income for these families.

For me, the lack of any concrete future removed any hope that I had for these children.  It is still an excellent film, and I was able to obtain a really informative interview with documentarian John Sheedy.  The film also promotes ResponsibilityOnline, an organization devoted to collecting money for the education of these children.  This organization can supply hope, and if this film brings more attention to the problem – thereby collecting funds to end the problem – THEN I can say that this is “not a story of despair and hopelessness.”  I do, regardless, recommend this film highly.

Now available on Instant Video, or visit the website to see how you can help.

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