Good intentions don’t always translate into good cinema, and in Victor A. Martinez and Ryan Schafer’s documentary, Laredoans Speak: Voices of a South Texas Border City, the need to counter the rising chorus of anti-immigration voices leads to a response no more nuanced or insightful than that which the film is fighting. Drawing on the testimony of a handful of residents of Laredo, Texas (the mayor, a local congressman, an ex-coyote), the doc consists of a repetitious series of statements about the important role that immigrants have played historically in building this country and in sustaining certain sectors of the nation’s economy, while being compensated for their efforts with low pay, endless suspicion, and the threat of deportation. The film scores limited rhetorical points by having an immigration attorney contrast the relative openness of the Canadian-American border with the far more stringent regulations to our south, but even here the explanations are far too simplistic. (In one of the film’s many crude aesthetic gestures, a large title bearing the single word “racism” pops up on-screen.) And while other of the film’s subjects do acknowledge the need for a middle ground in immigration policy between exclusion and unlimited access, the movie’s argument only occasionally transcends its oozy nonspecificity and feel-good bleeding-heart vibe.
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