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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

No Man’s Land

by director Conor Allyn

Dear Reader, Friend, Cinephile,

“Walk a mile in his shoes,” the old saying goes. Too often, we forget the first part: “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” It’s a reminder to practice empathy, to see the world from perspectives other than our own: What film does best… especially when accompanied by perilous thrills and daring horse chases!

Our world is growing apart, more and more often forcing us to choose a side. In this time of fear, my brother Jake and I wanted to make a film about hope. To explore the border, and the people living on both sides of it, in a different way. To show that while millions quarrel about whether to build walls that divide, there is still time to unite. But we must first recognize the borders within ourselves. And cross them.

So Jake and I embarked on a film about the border from a new perspective: A “reverse immigration” story in which the tragic killing of a Mexican child at the border forces an Anglo kid to flee his family’s Texas ranch and escape on horseback into Mexico, living as a “gringo illegal alien” as he crosses the country on an epic, dangerous journey to seek forgiveness.

That is the inspiration, and the optimism, behind No Man’s Land. Ours is a movie that seeks to rise above politics: In fact, we avoided it like the plague. No Man’s Land is a personal story of two families torn apart by the human tragedy of the border, who triumph over the borders of hate and fear within themselves—a story we hope will speak to everyone, red or blue, on every side of every color and border we build between each other.

On one level, it’s an intense thriller, wrapped in the Americana of a modern Western journey. From the first rifle shots fired on horseback in the dark, an entertaining ride filled with love, hate and danger; loss, tragedy and triumph.

On another level, it’s a perilous journey about a boy chased into the land he was raised to fear—but learns to understand—and inviting you to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, before you pass judgement.

My actor/writer brother Jake and I grew up in red-state Texas with a father who often worked in Mexico. Our childhood was shaped by trips south—not to Cabo or Cancun, but to Guanajuato, Morelia, Chiapas, Mexico City. I should confess that we are Anglos: blue-eyed, fair-haired Dallas Cowboys fans. We looked like our neighbors on the outside, but when it came to Mexico, we felt a little different inside. I remember vividly when my Dad went on Fox’s Bill O’Reilly to argue in favor of immigration reform with a view of Mexico as something more than a dystopia of cartels and poverty. O’Reilly really went after him, calling my dad a traitor and un-American. I remember thinking, “This is a betrayal. We’re on your side!”

It wasn’t until years later that I came to the real error in that thinking. What side? Just because I happened to be born Anglo, or in a border state, shouldn’t make me for, or against, anything.

The way we think about the border shouldn’t be as simple as choosing a side—or having it chosen for us. The people on either side of this line in the sand are mostly good, but far from perfect. That’s the way we represent both countries in this film. Not good guys or bad guys. Just normal folks in an extraordinary situation, in which forces outside their control have created a scary and perilous environment that sometimes yields triumph, but too often ends in tragedy.

It’s a trek about walking that mile in someone else’s shoes. And only after that, judging them.

Our film (and I do mean ours—as in, mine and yours—because when you choose to watch it, that makes the film something we share) is about seeing the border—that artificial line we have drawn in the dust—in a new way. It’s a crisis that is man-made, which also means we have the power to overcome it. If only we will allow ourselves to see the world in a different way… and cross the borders within our own hearts.

Posted January 5, 2021

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