The Border Film Genre

The term ‘genre’ is generally understood to refer to types of film that share common characteristics relating to theme and style of filmmaking. For instance, mention that a film is a ‘Western’ or a ‘musical’ and most people will instantly understand its basic story-telling conventions. Classifications of genre (and sub-genre) are also used to target potential audiences, determine production and marketing strategies, and to provide film critics with a basis for comparing and judging films.

Genre categories are also employed to identify distinct stages in the historical development of film: typically, first is an experimental phase, next a classical era as the genre blooms (sometimes referred to as a ‘golden age’), followed by the proliferation of sub-genres (such as the ‘Spaghetti Western’) or refinements that tend toward excess and bowdlerization (say, Border Frankenstein meets the Beatles!!). Ultimately, a genre may collapse under the weight of repetition and parody, before slipping into terminal decline. Enterprising filmmakers and critics sometimes revive a genre, which is how we got Neo-noir, for instance.

I decided to nominate 25 canonical films that together constitute the foundational films in my ‘border film genre.’ The list is of course a personal choice, but the following are demonstrably films of quality and distinction as measured by originality, visuals, screenplay, music, performance, and overall impact and significance. In any event, it’s a good place to begin deciding which films to watch. 

Director: Fernando de Fuentes     
Subgenre: Revolution

1949 BORDER INCIDENT                              
Director: Anthony Mann               

1955 ESPALDAS MOJADAS                          
Director: Alejandro Galindo          
Subgenre: Migration

1958 TOUCH OF EVIL                                    
Director: Orson Welles                  
Subgenre: Crime

1969 THE WILD BUNCH                                
Director: Sam Peckinpah               
Subgenre: Western

1983 EL NORTE                                             
Director: Gregory Nava                  
Subgenre: Migration

1987 BORN IN EAST LA                                 
Director: Cheech Marin                 
Subgenre: Comedy

Director: Alfonso Arau                   
Subgenre: Revolution

1991 CABEZA DE VACA                                
Director: Nicolás Echeverria          
Subgenre: History

1994 EL JARDIN DEL EDEN                           
Director: María Novaro                 
Subgenre: Migration                        

1995 LONE STAR                                           
Director: John Sayles                      
Subgenre: Western

1998 LA OTRA CONQUISTA                          
Director: Salvador Carrasco          
Subgenre: History

1998 BAJO CALIFORNIA                               
Director: Carlos Bolado Muño      
Subgenre: Fantasy

2000 TRAFFIC                                                
Director: Stephen Soderburgh      
Subgenre: Crime

2003 YO LA PEOR DE TODAS                        
Director:  María Luisa Bemberg     
Subgenre: History

Director: Bruce Beresford              
Subgenre: Western

2008 SLEEP DEALER                                      
Director: Alex Rivera                      
Subgenre: Fantasy

2008 PURGATORIO                                      
Director: Roberto Rochín               
Subgenre: Migration                        

2009 SIN NOMBRE                                       
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga         
Subgenre: Crime 

2010 MACHETE                                            
Director: Robert Rodriguez           
Subgenre: Fantasy 

2015 SICARIO                                                
Director: Denis Villeneuve             
Subgenre: Crime

2015 600 MILLAS                           
Director: Gabriel Ripstein              
Subgenre: Crime

2016 TRANSPECOS                                       
Director: Greg Kwedar                   
Subgenre: Western

2019 YA NO ESTOY AQUI                             
Director: Frías de la Parra              
Subgenre: Migration

2021 SIN SENAS PARTICULARES                 
Director: Fernanda Valadez           
Subgenre: The ‘Disappeared’

Bordertown film poster