South of the Border

David Bradbury’s documentary examines how the political and economic struggle in Central America is expressed through the music of the people south of the border, from Mexico to Managua.

The United States has always liked to call the shots South of the Border. In Central America where the press is censored, the radio and TV gagged, the US-backed regimes have failed to stop the music. You can be gaoled, even killed for singing the wrong song – the song of protest – but still the music goes on.

Australian film maker David Bradbury and his crew covered five countries in five months – from Mexico to Managua – in search of the music. The result is this passionate film, South of the Border. Music is the star of this film. The music comes from the people and it has a relevance to their daily lives which is often lacking in the music that tops the hit parade.

Narrated by Peter Garrett and superbly photographed by cinematographer Philip Bull, South of the Border was filmed wherever the music lead. It captures and sets to music the excitement of 200,000 chanting students cast into “the classrooms of the streets” in the largest demonstrations seen in Mexico since 1968.

In El Salvador, the film makers went aloft in US-supplied helicopters … then slipped around army patrols to film musicians and combatants in the leftist guerilla zones.

On Guatemala’s Carribean coast, the Watusis, a group of seven kids, descendants of African slaves, rap out a rhythm on their makeshift instruments – jam tins, plastic bottles and tortoise shells.

In Honduras, local musicians protest the military occupation of their country as huge helicopters and transport plans spill out United States marines. They storm their beaches in a dress rehearsal of an invasion that might take place one day in Nicaragua.

On the border itself, Sandinista folksinger Norma Helena Gadea and Mario Rojas sing for Nicaraguan troops huddled in their trenches guarding the mountainous north from invading contras. Their resolution to stay the distance is echoed by brilliant reggae singer Remigio Hodgson “Reagan is for the Reagans, Nicaragua is for the Nicaraguans, And if you come in that plane, you too will be shot down my brother, Sorry to tell you…”

South of the Border is a chorus of courage that uses music to chronicle the struggle between repression and revolution. It is the story of those who would either hold history back or take it forward in the countries that make up the vital land link between North and South America.

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