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VIFF's Tectonics: the architecture of immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border

 Filmmaker Peter Bo Rappmund  was in town to present his new  arthouse film Tectonics shown at the Vancouver International Film Festival.  

Tectonics (derived from tectonicus, or "building" in vulgar Latin) gives a unique look to the illegal migration Mexico into US: it takes viewers away  from the violence that is usually depicted in films and media on this topic, and instead concentrates on the space – the architecture, buildings, monuments and dwell  men have created along the 3,169 km in between these two countries, from Texas all the way to Tijuana, San Diego.

Recent barriers were erected in Texas, Arizona and California. In 2006, then-President George W. Bush signed Secure Fence Act, helping to install 700 additional miles of barrier.  

For the director, exploring the border became a project after constantly hearing in the media the issues around illegal immigration and the reigning violence in the border, and reading Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaños’ “2666”, which dedicates one chapter on the dead and disappeared women in Juarez, Mexico.

“Finally, I just decided to go down to San Diego, which is south from where I live and I went to go visit the border and the first time [….] it was very striking to me, because I’ve heard many things about it,  so I had an impression about what's gonna be then when I actually got there, it was really strange,"  Bo Rappmund told the Vancouver Observer in an interview at VIFF temporary headquarters in Downtown.

One of the things, Bo Rappmund noticed there were three fences: an outer, a middle and an one inside in the Mexican side, but that wasn’t all.

“Another thing I noticed -- that was interesting – is that there was no [real state] development on the U.S side.  It was completely empty and in the Mexican side, they build right up to the border, utilizing every space right up to the fence.”

While visiting Juarez, known as one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico,  Bo Ruppmond explained that the violence is not as random as it is portrayed in the media, especially in US media.

“It's happening to certain people, it's happening because of certain cartel in that way it's not random, it's not like you want to walk down the street and get kidnapped and killed […] that's what a lot of people want you to fear,  I feel.”

In Tectonics, Bo Rappmund takes a distant perspective to show the man-made structures rather than portraying the actual conflict that ensuing within the border, making Tectonics more of an ethnographic work.  Human presence can be seen very sparsely, often through long shots  as well through sound.

“First at all, there's a lot of work that deal with the people in that area, they are great works that they've been doing," he said. "What I hadn't seen was someone that has focused in the structure, in the architecture of the border and just follow the entire thing." 

"The things that people build are, in a way, the ultimate statement about their culture."

Thus,  he started to survey with detail  the border and realized that in San Diego-Tijuana’s frontier was very secure and it seemed looked like a “military base.”

Afterwards, the director decided to travel the larger system, and he's covered more than 90 per cent of the border, except few stops: the military bases.

 “Every shot of the film contains a shot of the border, sometimes in the film is just empty space, but that's still the border. Sometimes, it's just the river or the desert.”


Armed with a DSLR Canon camera and sound equipment, the filmmaker collected stills shooting frame by frame,  from different landscapes : rivers, canyons, bridges, monuments as the boderline shifts through natural  and man-made fences.

The images are intertwined with the wild sound he picked up from the areas places he visited, evoking the director’s feelings on those places.

The film was craftily layered during post production, edited with animation technique, the images look fuzzy at times giving the illusion of movement. 

 “First at all, there's a lot of works that deal with the people , in that area , they are great works that they've been doing, what I hadn't seen was someone that has focused in the structure, in the architecture of the border an just follow the entire thing.

“I think it’s ethnographic in a way because the things that people build are,  in a way, the ultimate statement about their culture. I feel those are the things that will stay there."


As Bo Rappmund shows the “poetry” of the area, he also recognizes the socio-political element around it, but not in the way that drives people to take a side.

“I don't come out and say ‘This is what you need to think,’ Bo Rappmund noted.  

“What I propose it’s to have the audience try to think about it for themselves and just observe the area and sort of getting a feeling for what is to be around. In that way, I think it's a political film.”

“I just hope I made a film that people would take with them and it will give them something to  think about later .”

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