Trump’s border wall has become such an infamous political symbol—a literal rallying cry—that it’s easy to forget that it actually was/is being built in the Southern border of the United States. It’s a structure that feels like a physical distillation of the Trumpian ethos: poorly conceived, brutish, and, most of all, unnecessarily cruel.
The New Yorker documentary, directed by Daniel Lombroso, is a depiction of “the wall” as it is not often seen in the landscape of American politics. It seems crazy considering how often the wall is referenced by pundits and politicians, but I think few Americans really understand what is in fact happening on the Southern border and how the practicalities of building a physical structure in the middle of the desert are both expensive and hugely damaging to the environment. This isn’t just some Trumpian grandstand: it’s a literal thing and it has forever altered the ecosystem of the Southern United States, scarring the earth and threatening plant and animal life. On screen we see and hear dynamite blasts echo through canyons, carving up the Earth in order to install utilitarian slats.
Films about government policies can often skew didactic or “finger waggy.” Lombroso, smartly, has found a character-driven entry into the subject to keep it from feeling like you’re watching some 60 Minutes segment. The protagonist of the film is John Kurc, a wedding and press photographer, who has adopted a mission, embedding himself into the vast American borderlands and capturing previously unseen images of mountains being blasted and habitats destroyed for the wall’s construction. This angle gives the film a scrappy, fight-against-the-establishment vibe that instills it with intrigue and, more importantly, a human connection. This isn’t some glossy news report: Kurc is in the sh-t and his mission feels hugely important, both as an act of journalism and selflessness. It’s a dusty, heat-drenched tour of an American southwest that is being demolished in real time.
Much has been written about how the border wall is ineffective at its primary goal—stemming illegal immigration, but as we near the 2024 presidential election, it will undoubtedly once again be used as a Republican rallying cry. But, hopefully Lombroso’s film will provide some context into what “finishing the wall” actually means and how the practicalities of building an unnecessary structure in the desert are severely damaging to local flora and fauna.
In addition to being featured on The New Yorker, American Scar has screened at Hot Docs, Palm Springs, and Big Sky. Lombroso is currently working on two short docs: one about plastic surgery addiction, and another about his grandmother, who survived the Holocaust.