Postcards From the Edge

Hi, Mom! I'm crossing the border!

It's an early Monday afternoon in late September, and Adler, in flip-flops, cargo shorts and a green Old Town Canoe tee shirt, is kicking around his folks' house, where he's been living since returning from Portland. He's thinking of moving to New York again, not to work in finance -- his Wall Street gig was, he says, "the worst three months" of his life -- but hopefully, this time, to score a job in a video production house.

Today, however, his dad has saddled him with the job of paying the pool guy and the glass installer, when they finish up their work around the property.

Adler says he and Huneycutt came up with the idea of doing a documentary on immigration last spring while planning out their summers. Adler wanted to make a documentary film. Honeycutt, who had previously spent time in El Salvador to write his undergraduate thesis on migrant remittances and their effects on small businesses there, wanted to explore Arizona's border situation with Mexico. "The natural intersection for us was a film about immigration."

The Grupo Beta men giggle over who gets to stand by Victoria Criado (center, with Brett Huneycutt, left): "It's like they never really mature."
Jimmy Magahern
The Grupo Beta men giggle over who gets to stand by Victoria Criado (center, with Brett Huneycutt, left): "It's like they never really mature."
Jorge, a migrant caught and returned to Nogales, spends time with his girlfriend before attempting to cross the border yet again.
Jimmy Magahern
Jorge, a migrant caught and returned to Nogales, spends time with his girlfriend before attempting to cross the border yet again.

Criado, whom Huneycutt had met at Boston College and Adler got to know while working on a political art project in New York, came onto the team by a weird stroke of synchronicity. Bored with her Wall Street job as a Latin America market analyst for Deutsche Bank, Criado e-mailed Adler saying she needed a more creative challenge, and was interested in working on a film.

"I told her, 'Brett and I are making a film. Why don't you quit your job and come with us?' And she did!"

Fueled by Criado's and Huneycutt's passion for and knowledge about all things Mexican, and by Adler's desire to use film for social good (his assignment as part of Wieden+Kennedy's youth team was to develop and launch ad campaigns for "people we considered to be righteous"), the three friends set off on a series of trips to border towns stretching from Arizona to Texas, determined to examine the explosive immigration situation from all possible vantage points.

They interviewed the migrants and the various human rights groups working to reduce deaths across the desert. They trained their camera on the Border Patrol agents and the Minutemen. They flew to Washington, D.C., to catch politicians coloring the immigration debate, like Senators Orrin Hatch, John McCain and Jon Kyl.

In the end, the whole thing just became too mind-numbingly complicated, like the immigration issue itself. The three became overwhelmed by the complexity of viewpoints they'd captured on camera, and Adler was left with more than 60 hours of video clips to comb through. There's some gold, like the Minutemen pep talk they caught on tape, where the leader proclaims, "We do not give away the American dream; we hold it up as a shining example for all of the world to reach for in their own countries." Some is totally irrelevant, like the 20 minutes they filmed at an ostrich ranch on the way to Tucson, which Adler later edited into a rap video, just for fun.

"I'll need to go through it all, figure out what the best footage is, and then see what it wants to be," Adler says, admitting that at the moment, none of them can quite wrap their arms around exactly what the film will be about. "Right now, I just need to take a break from it."

Fortunately, about midway through the film project, the team hit upon the idea of distributing the disposable cameras, an idea modeled on an experiment Adler had participated in at Wieden+Kennedy, where 100 cameras were sent out to people in Tokyo, Amsterdam, London and three other cities with the instruction: "Take pictures of things you think are perfect."

In this case, however, the recipients would likely be photographing quite the opposite.

Once the cameras were returned, in the enclosed self-addressed, stamped envelopes, the photos would be developed, blown up and displayed as an art exhibit in various galleries across the U.S. and Mexico.

Huneycutt, the economics major, came up with the clever incentive scheme to get the amateur photographers to return the cameras. Noticing that a certain retail giant (that Huneycutt prefers not to name, for fear of implying sponsorship) had stores near every one of the border towns they visited, he suggested they include a gift card from the chain in the packets containing the cameras. The card, the recipients were told, would only be activated -- with a $50 deposit -- once the cameras were sent back.

Best yet, for all three of these stressed-out high achievers, it was a welcome no-brainer. All Adler, Huneycutt and Criado had to do was get the cameras into the right hands and then keep checking the post office box. At worst, it was a numbers game. "We figure if we distribute about 300, we'll get 40 back," says Adler. "We're expecting there'll maybe be one great shot on each roll, so it'll probably be a 40-piece exhibit."

For Adler, in fact, it was a double no-brainer. "We don't even want to Photoshop the pictures," he says. "We want to just present them as is, just blown up to different sizes, some big, some small."

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