Monday, March 4, 2013
A documentary playing Monday night in San Diego spotlights a Tijuana man with a pair of unusual professions centered around one of the border city’s biggest underground industries.
SAN DIEGO Meet Félix Rosales, a middle-aged, overweight producer and actor in Tijuana’s prolific B movie industry. He’s played many roles in dozens of films, but the role he knows best is that of a pollero, a coyote. A guy who helps immigrants sneak into the U.S. illegally.
But Rosales has another profession, the one that pays the bills. He’s a real life pollero.
In her documentary about Rosales, "Félix: Self-fictions of a smuggler," director Adriana Trujillo uses the intersection of Rosales's two worlds — his real life, and his fictional film clips — to open a rare window onto the large and lucrative underground world of immigrant smuggling in a border city.
Trujillo’s film starts with a scene from Rosales's smuggling life. He's driving a car at night through the streets of Tijuana.
In the next scene, the car is stopped and he’s examining some fake California driver's licenses and a passport that he’s buying from a contact off the street.
Rosales tells the camera person, who’s filming from the back seat, that he wants to show the world the smuggling business isn’t the way it’s often painted.
Trujillo said while filming the documentary, she was often surprised that Rosales was OK with sharing details of his business that could potentially get him and others into a lot of trouble.
She said she was continually asking, “’Felix, are you sure we can record this?’”
Each time Rosales said “yes.”
In Trujillo’s documentary, Rosales clearly sees himself as a hero — someone who helps his fellow countrymen achieve the American dream.
And he blames bad smugglers — the kind who leave their clients dying in the desert — for ruining the reputation of the entire profession.
But in his fictional films, he sometimes plays the bad smuggler. In a clip from the film “Pesadilla Americana” or "American Nightmare," Rosales is leading a group of migrants across the border through the desert when two of them suddenly collapse and die.
He tells the other migrants it’s not the first time one of this pollos has died during the crossing.
In the documentary about his life, Rosales acknowledges the smuggling business has declined since the U.S. tightened border security. At one point he visits an aging smuggler who lives in a remote area of the border east of Tijuana.
The man used to harbor border crossers on their way north, but now he doesn’t have any clients so he dedicates himself to making cheese.
Still, Rosales said there will always be a smuggling business, it’s just gotten more complicated and requires more creativity. And he wants to keep documenting it.
As Trujillo and her team were finishing their documentary last year, she got a call from Rosales. He wanted her to come out and film a new smuggling technique he was using.
“And we're like, ‘Oh man. No, please ... We have to finish the film,’” Trujillo said in an interview.
"Félix: Self-fictions of a smuggler” is still touring festivals around the world. She hopes to make it available in DVD or streamed on the Internet in the near future.