At the Border (Come as You Are)
By: Dr. Claus Mueller
PC: Getty Images
The Venezuelan US co-production by Brulio Jatar and Anais Michel world premiered at the 2023 DOC NYC festival with an impressive yet subdued portrayal of survival on the frontier separating Venezuela and Columbia. It provides a low-key documentation, bordering in ethnography, of the everyday life of young men earning a living as smugglers (Coyote) in the dangerous border areas of Colombia and Venezuela, Espanyol and Narrabas survive despite the perils surrounding them from corrupt officers of the armed gangs and natural disasters.
Their unpredictable income is based on escorting individuals or families from Venezuela to Colombia or bringing merchandise strapped to their backs to Venezuela. They both compete with other teenage young people for these jobs in this region of dirt roads, illegal pathways and frequently flooded rivers. They report coming across bodies on death road killed led by armed gangs, Espanyol and Barrabas know the rules of the game established by gangs controlling defined sections of the border crossing regions.
Violating these rules by trespassing can be punished by death Beyond smuggling there is little employment for the young men in the city if Cicuita where much of the documentary was shot Brauli JaTar who was born in Venezuela illustrates his country's problem. "A lot of people [from Venezuela] were going to Colombia just to eat in the soup kitchen which are serving 3-500 [people] daily". Since 2014 close to 8 million Venezuelans have left their country and an estimated one million now live in Colombia. Espanol and Barrabas support their relatives in Venezuela but their own legal status in Colombia is precarious as is the situation of most Venezuelans living in Colombia.
They can be expelled and many hope to leave for North America, Western Europe, or other high income countries but most of these countries are adopting policies constraining immigration unless the immigrants belong to highly educated groups Though having no funds or an advanced education, the former smuggler Barrabas hopes to enter the United States with his female companion and young child.
With superior cinematography and a compelling story At The Border offers insights on how to survive the chaotic border region retaining a normal sense of self. The documentary does not show the conflict and violence of that region but conveys instead a humanistic sense of being.