When watching documentaries, people tend to mostly assess the work based on the strength of the subject. They value the content more than the format and if a documentary delivers a powerful or emotional message, they will embrace it without paying much attention to the vehicle itself.

Reportero is one of those films that definitely affect spectators. Using the story of Tijuana paper Zeta as a centerpiece, director Bernardo Ruiz delivers a rough portrait of journalism in Mexico. Starting in a preCalderón era, at a time when the media were censored, the film then shows that freedom of speech comes with great danger.

While journalists can now express themselves somewhat freely, they have however become the targets of those they denounce. The case of Zeta is of course extreme as, throughout the years the paper evolved from covering stories about corrupt politicians to focusing on the drug cartels.

Following journalist/photographer Sergio Haro, we discover that not only the paper is getting printed in the US to avoid risks but most importantly that several of his fellow journalists have been killed because of what they uncovered. We also find out that almost no investigations were conducted in those cases, both the justice system and government officials being linked to the organized crime.

While those stories can be pretty shocking for some spectators, this isn’t really groundbreaking news. Whether you live in Southern California like me, in the US or even in Europe, chances are you read about situations like this quite a few times; this also certainly banal for Latinos, which explains that the screening at the LA film festival was uniquely filled with “gringos” like me.

I’m not saying that this story does not need to be told but this documentary’s impact isn’t as powerful as the filmmaker might have expected; not because we are indifferent but because this is something we saw on the news pretty often.

But this isn’t Reportero’s main issue. A bigger problem is the fact that Mr. Ruiz’s narrative takes too many shortcuts to convey its message quickly. While he takes a fair amount of time portraying Zeta’s editor-in-chief, he then just starts introducing other journalists to let us know a few seconds later that they got killed. We hardly get to know them or what they were working on, which turns them into cold raw data instead of increasing our emotional involvement. This makes us at times wonder whether Mr. Ruiz is more interested in investigative work or in shock value.

As a result, Reportero looks like an awkward and somewhat amateurish work, which undermines its impact: the story is interesting but, as a documentary, it’s a failure.

Director: Bernardo Ruiz – Featuring: Sergio Haro Cordero, Adela Navarro Bello – Running Time: 1:11 – Year: 2011 – Country: USA, Mexico

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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.