Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011 | 2 a.m.
The holiday blockbusters dominating movie theater marquees this time of year will get a lesser known and more serious neighbor at one Las Vegas cineplex next week.
Starting Dec. 30, Regal Village Square will be showing the documentary “8 Murders a Day” — a 90-minute film examining the violence afflicting Juarez, Mexico.
The fact that the movie is being shown here says something about a Las Vegas population that thirsts for information about Mexico.
The film has shown in more than 25 cities nationwide since its release in February, mostly in the Southwest but also in cities such as New York and Chicago, which have large Hispanic populations.
Las Vegas will be one of the last cities “8 Murders a Day” visits before Director Charlie Minn focuses on other projects. Minn targeted Las Vegas for one of the final stops because he thought it would do well in the market despite perceptions that Las Vegas crowds are more likely to open their wallets to see staged acrobatics than real-life assassinations.
Minn has been traveling across the country to promote the film he spent 18 months making and to find theaters that would show it.
“You know the visitors to Vegas won’t see this, but the market is here for this film,” Minn said. “There is a huge Hispanic population, and this is something people want to know more about. The film has done very well in similar cities and communities.”
In 2010, Juarez, a border city of 1.3 million people across from El Paso, Tex., had 3,111 murders, making it the murder capital of the world. In 2007, at the beginning of Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s self-declared war on drug cartels, Juarez had 316 murders. In El Paso, which can be reached by pedestrian bridge from Juarez, there were five murders in 2010. Much of the violence is attributed to the clash between authorities and the rival Sinaloa and Juarez cartels.
“This is a film to inform and educate because I really feel like this is one of the most significant, and underreported, news stories today,” Minn said. “In 2011, the number of murders dropped to 2,000, which is significant, but the number is very high. The people would give anything to go back to 300 murders a year, and that’s still a high murder rate.”
John Tuman, chairman of UNLV’s Latin American studies department, said it’s no wonder the film’s producers would target Las Vegas because a third of the population is Hispanic, and the majority of that group is from Mexico.
“Anecdotally, I can say from another project I’ve done on patterns of civic engagement among immigrants from Mexico that there is strong interest on current events in Mexico. ... They follow the news carefully and watch what’s coming from Mexico,” he said.
Outside the Hispanic community, Las Vegas’ appetite for documentaries should not be underestimated, Tuman added.
“Over the last 10 years, a variety of documentaries have come through Vegas on a range of different subjects,” he said. “With the university community, legal community and also the religious community, there is general interest in issues of human rights and political violence, ... For that reason, and given the size of the metro area, Las Vegas is bound to attract interest in films like this.”
Regal Entertainment Group spokesman Richard Grover said in an email that the theater operator is working with the distributor to target “select markets” where they think the film will be successful and “ultimately, our moviegoers decide which films they choose to see.”
Minn said the film is scheduled to run for one week and could stay longer if ticket sales are strong.
In the film, Minn interviews journalists, academics, writers and victims in Juarez and El Paso. The word “corruption” is peppered throughout the movie as those closest to the violence argue that endemic bribery and extortion stand as roadblocks to effective law enforcement. Not all the blame is placed on Calderon’s campaign against the cartels. Several of those interviewed say the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has not paid enough attention to violence in Mexico and has done little to stem the flow of weapons south of the border.
Minn takes time in the film to show the devastating toll the violence takes on families, many of whom live in poverty and hold little hope for justice.
“There is near total impunity; 95 percent of the murders aren’t even investigated,” Minn said. “The film poses a lot of questions that the audience is left to decide on for themselves.”
Minn is working on a second documentary about Juarez, titled “Murder Capital of the World.”