Documentary filmmaker Charlie Minn’s latest effort, “Donde Estan?” takes a hard, in-depth look at the factors surrounding the disappearance and murder of more than 2,000 women in Juarez since the early 1990s.
The film, which opens at Premiere Cinema at Bassett Center on Feb. 17, explores the numerous variables and theories on who’s responsible for these unsolved murders and why they happened.
“We talked to as many people as we could about who’s behind these murders,” Minn said. “There is definitely a lot of different candidates, and as far as why, impunity was a major factor and probably the biggest reason why this is happening.”
Over the past 25 years, Juarez law enforcement arrested several people in connection with the murders, which became an epidemic and was labeled “femicide.” In the ’90s, a couple of bus drivers were arrested in connection with the murders, as well as an Egyptian chemist who was charged with rape and murder. Abdul Latif Sharif later died in prison, but was charged with more murders even while he was incarcerated.
Pinning the charges on these men has been believed by many who’ve investigated these murders as simply a way to cloud the issue, calling these men scapegoats. With little or shoddy investigation, including the loss of evidence, these factors made discovering who is responsible for the disappearance and death of these women virtually impossible.
Former El Paso Times reporter and award-winning journalist Diana Washington Valdez spent years investigating the murders. Her newspaper series, “Death Stalks the Border,” and her book, “The Killing Fields: Harvest of Women,” unveils shocking details and evidence of corruption surrounding the murders that garnered worldwide attention, including that of human rights groups and congressional delegations. Minn consulted with Valdez on “Donde Estan?”
“Charlie interviewed me, and I’ve helped him with some of his other films as well, regarding the drug cartels and Juarez violence,” Valdez said. “But I told him the topic of women’s murders is scarier than all that stuff.”
Prior to publishing her book in 2006, Valdez received numerous death threats and veiled warnings. With the help of a former American federal agent, she was able to trace one of the phone calls back to a unit of the Mexican military.
With the level of corruption regarding the women’s murders reaching the highest levels of the Mexican government, it’s no wonder the killings have never been solved, she said.
“When you do an investigation and realize the police are coming up empty and the authorities don’t seem able or willing to do something to have a definitive investigation, you know there’s either a cover-up or other forces at play that are taking place that set the conditions for these crimes to continue,” Valdez said.
For Minn, making this film was inevitable and is in line with the impetus for making all of his other movies: to change people’s lives. He investigated all the avenues of who may be behind the murders through interviews with the Juarez mayor, El Paso immigration attorney Carlos Spector, the son of Marisela Escobedo, the slain social activist whose daughter was murdered in 2008, and many others.
“I think what Mexico is fighting is a reputation of corruption that deals with scapegoats,” Minn said. “Anyone from the police, to political figures – state, local and federal – are going to be looked at as being corrupt.”