May 2, 2003

The Gatekeeper: A film about undocumented people

Independent film takes a look at undocumented immigrants’ harsh reality. Director John Carlos Frey tells us about this movie that was recently released in local theatres.

By Pablo De Sainz

During his whole adolescence, while he was living in San Diego, director John Carlos Frey would never mention to his friends that he was born in Tijuana, much less accept that his mother was Mexican. Rather, he would emphasis his Swiss descent on his father’s side.

“I wanted to pass as American, I didn’t want to accept that I was part Mexican”, Frey said. “It was really easy to leave my culture behind.”


John Carlos Frey .

But, 20 years later, Frey has found inspiration in his own border and Mexican culture to write and direct his first film, “The Gatekeeper”, which was recently released at local theatres.

Protagonist Adams Fields (played by Frey), a Border Patrol officer who hates undocumented Mexicans. The irony is that Fields is part Mexican, something he denies wholeheartedly.

One day he decides to go undercover as an undocumented immigrant to catch a band of coyotes that work at the border. But something goes wrong and Fields, together with the rest of the “pollos,” is forced to work for some drug dealers. Here’s where the racist officer begins to see the harsh reality that undocumented workers live in the United States, and at the same time, he begins to appreciate his Mexican heritage.

For Frey, who was born in Tijuana 36 years ago and was raised in San Diego, “The Gatekeeper” is a movie that tries to show the injustices committed against undocumented immigrants.

“This film was made for undocumented immigrants because there aren’t many movies about them,” said Frey, who filmed it with a low budget and even had to take out a loan on his house mortgage in order to finance the film.

Also, the director said that “The Gatekeeper,” which was filmed in San Diego and Tijuana, must function as a creator of consciousness.

“I made it for those people who ignore the situation at the border, for those who don’t know the truth,” he said.

Based on the awards the film has received, Frey has achieved his purpose of informing people, especially those Americans of European descent who ignore the world of undocumented workers. Last year, for example, “The Gate-keeper” received the viewers’ award for best movie at San Diego’s Latino Film Festival. It also received the prestigious Phoenix Award at Santa Barbara’s International Film Festival.

“There are no stories like this in Hollywood,” Frey said. “This is a story that’s taking place right now.”

Although the film has met critics’ expectations and has received many awards at film festivals, Frey said that the real test for “The Gatekeeper” depends on the general public who goes to see it at theatres.

“I’m not yet satisfied with the movie, because I still need to see if people like it or not. I have to see what happens at the commercial level. I hope it opens people’s eyes.”

“The Gatekeeper” is one of the few films in recent years that show positive aspects of Hispanic culture. Frey said he started writing the screenplay after reading a book about a police officer that goes undercover to catch a band of coyotes.

Compared with his adolescent years in San Diego, Frey said there have been few positive changes in the Hispanic community.

“I think today it’s worst because there are more people dying at the border. Also, Latinos who come to this country have little representation in movies and television. The worst thing is that they don’t talk too much about racism.”

“The Gatekeeper” is a movie that has action, drama, and a message. It’s much more than any of the Hollywood super productions where the only Hispanic characters are drug dealers and gardeners.

Frey invites everybody to go see “The Gatekeeper” at theatres: “We need you to go see the movie. We need you to support our cinema.”

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