Courtesy Quiet Pictures

“Reportero” film shows how Mexican journalists risk their lives

In 2007, Mexico-born and New York-raised filmmaker, Bernardo Ruiz, traveled to Baja California to investigate a shelter for deported children. However, during his time there he met veteran reporter, Sergio Haro and realized his story was more urgent to tell.

Ruiz tells Haro’s story in the film “Reportero” which premieres this weekend at the LA Film Fest, and the following week at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. This fall, the documentary will also air nationally on PBS’ POV.

“I hope it will get people to see the drug war in a different way and value the work of reporters,” says Ruiz, who conducted research and interviews for three years before he started filming the documentary in 2010.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 40 journalists have been murdered or have disappeared in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon came to power – launching an initiative to protect the country from its powerful drug cartels and organized crime groups. Haro himself, who has reported for the respected Zeta newspaper for three decades, lost three of his close colleagues. Although he has received death threats for his investigative reporting on political corruption and drug cartels, he does not quit.

Like Haro, Ruiz didn’t quit either and after filming for two years, his film made its world premiere in February. “Reportero” went on a 12-city tour in Mexico with Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna’s Ambulante Festival.

“I was scared at first,” says Ruiz.”I didn’t know what the reaction would be, but all screenings were packed. People were waiting outside. I never had that experience before. In Tijuana, people were very grateful.”

He says here it is more complicated, however.

“Here in the U.S. people don’t feel connected to the violence in Mexico,” says Ruiz. “Most Americans don’t see it as their problem. People don’t think about the U.S. consumption driving that market or the sale of automatic weapons, just that Mexico is a violent place.”

He says although people in the U.S. don’t often see the clear links in terms of the drug trade between U.S. and Mexico, he hopes his work will show the humanity of a team of reporters laboring almost invisibly.

“Reportero” film shows how Mexican journalists risk their lives  sergioharo people NBC Latino News

Courtesy Quiet Pictures

“The most important thing is rescuing the memory of Sergio’s slain colleagues,” says Ruiz. “It was really important to get beyond the death toll and look at a human story with some dignity and a little honest, skeptical hopefulness. I think Sergio’s story illustrates a bigger story.”

Over the course of two years, Ruiz says he went back and forth from Baja California to Los Angeles dozens of times, but he never stayed in Tijuana or Mexicali – just 10 days or two weeks at a time.

“In the last year and a half, Tijuana has calmed down, but Juarez was really bad at the time,” says Ruiz. “I was lucky in that I never received a direct threat, but Zeta did receive threats.”

He says overall, the people of Baja California try to lead normal lives, and Zeta’s print sales have been growing.

“People rely on it for more than news but for context,” says Ruiz of the paper he feels has high standards and ethics. “It’s a really valuable resource and touchstone.”

Although he can’t speak for each of the deaths, and he says some reporters may not be as honest as they should, he believes the majority are doing good work.

A veteran reporter once told him, ”In Mexico, as a reporter, they’ll kill you twice, and the second time they’ll smear your name.”

He remembers when reporter Benjamin Flores, 29, was gunned down.

“There were a bunch of rumors that he was a homosexual,” says Ruiz. “As if that were any reason to kill him.”

Over the years, Ruiz tried to get to know the humble and reserved Haro who has seen so much bloodshed throughout his career.

“He doesn’t often express his emotions,” Ruiz says of the weathered, yet driven reporter. “He was a little hesitant to be in the film, and it has taken a toll on him.”

However, he says the one time he kind of let him in was an emotional moment.

“After two years of filming, I sent him a rough cut of the film to see if there was anything in there that would put him in danger…I didn’t hear from him in about a week,” says Ruiz. “Eventually he called me and told me he watched the film with his son. They don’t always talk, and his son said, ‘Dad, I want you to know how proud I am about what you do.’”

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