This is a film that’s going to haunt me for a long time. There’s only ever been one other film that had such a profound effect on me and that was Sophie’s Choice. And like Sophie in that film, the parents of children trying to escape the lives they were born into know that when they say goodbye to their kids, it literally could mean they’ll never see them again, nor ever learn of their fate.
Then there were the many, many children who didn’t have parents, or if they did, were horribly abused by them. But all those young, naïve and innocent kids were trying to get across the border to the US, and filmmaker/director Rebecca Camisa followed just a handful of them on their journey.
And it was one fraught with dangers that most adults wouldn’t make it alive through, never mind waif like, poverty stricken children. Clinging desperately to the tops of freight trains, these children are full of dreams of what cities like Manhattan can offer them, and of course, most often, they don’t even make it across the border.
For those that do, there is just as much uncertainty and risk and we heard tales of the abuse these children suffer at the hands of those who prey upon them, knowing that they are alone and unable to help themselves.
One such story told was that of Kevin who’s a 14 year old Honduran. His ambition was to make a new life for himself in New York and make enough money to buy his mother a house and free her from the violent man she’s married to. On top of “The Beast” – the children’s name for the freight train – Kevin befriended Frito, Jairo and Yurico, all of whom were around the same age and all of whom had desperately sad stories to tell.
Jairo’s mother had been killed, Yurico wanted to be adopted in America after living most of his short life on the streets and all were prepared to face whatever came their way to achieve their goals.
But the ‘dream’ turned to rubble for all of them; Yurico ended up back on the streets and sniffing glue whenever he could, Frito was deported and went back home, Jairo did rather better in that he ended up training as a mechanic with his uncle and Kevin eventually surrendered himself to border patrol after witnessing horrors most of us couldn’t imagine outside of a war zone.
He later tried again and his mother spoke of how she hoped he’d be adopted in the US. I hope she’s right, I really do. And many do try and try again, but not many succeed. Perhaps their best hope is in the shelters that’ve been provided to try to save these kids, but it’s a safety net that way, way too many slip through.
It’s inadequately funded and run, and though very well intentioned, it’s simply not enough. So many children die on this perilous 1,000 mile journey and we saw evidence of that in parents trailing sadly behind modest coffins.
All in all, this was a thoroughly depressing and harrowing film, but as ever with the True Stories series, it offered uncompromising journalistic endeavour and was documentary filmmaking at its finest.
That said, I wouldn’t want to watch it again. It was just too painful. That may not be a good enough excuse to bury my head in the sand, but though it never hurts to be aware of what’s going on in the world, when there’s nothing you can do about it, it’s not always productive to look at it.