Inside America is a study of institutionalized behavior turning its lens to Brownsville, South Texas and to conditions that may produce either a homegrown terrorist or several individuals that are dangerous to themselves and others. The images present in a racially mixed community along the Texas-Mexico borderland are the antithesis of the American exceptionalism on display in the Jersey Shore and MTV’s adaptation of the British sitcom Skins: this is what rouge capitalism producers – an immigration pool that came here to satisfy a demand to find jobs and opportunities shut out.
The institutions writer/director Barbara Eder studies are an educational system broken by security that interrupts an English class for a random backpack check, the schools ROTC, and foster families. It also encourages students to sell cookies for a fundraiser with a reward of a class field trip. Juxtaposing the legitimacy of this economy with an underground economy that develops, as immigration reform does not allow those here illegally to work legitimately. This film makes a strong case for the DREAM Act.
The frankness of Eder’s lens is comparable to Mark Street’s Rockaway – itself a hybrid documentary/narrative. Eder, working with non-actors edges towards an ethnographic crime thriller; thriller elements are in place but that it’s not its intention. Remarkably the narrative doesn’t contain the angst of a Larry Clark work, although cinematographer Christian Haake borrows as much from Clark’s Bully and the Darden brothers.
Following six subjects including aspiring beauty queens (a women that resists to raise an “egg” – an assignment in home economics), drug distributors, would be army members subject to an institutional behavior all their own, a good kid who is forced to go door to door to sell cookies at a perverse school fundraiser, and two elderly Mexican women who try to fix up their granddaughter with a boy that works at Wal-Mart.
The flaw of a films made by outsiders to America are there is a certain hostility, we’re a large country – the title Inside America seems overtly broad, however the tensions present aren’t restricted to the Tex-Mex border. The choice is curious: the actors are engaged in a political action without being politically engaged beyond the social dynamics of their neighborhood and community.
When a student bringing a gun to class retreats from the security line to hide it he’s told: “don’t do that – you look very suspicious when you do that” – - is this a parable for concerns within an overall American security state – the borderland shared by United States and Mexico, the fear though as a cultural export the film portrays a less than flattering image of the United States, a critique made by films operating on the same socio-economic scale, such as Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, which was made by an American.
Inside America is a sad and visually exciting. I just wish it was more specific about its geography, although this European funded production combats the popular images of Americans; it does take fair jabs at the American exceptionalism coded in our cultural exports.
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