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Cartel Land (2015)

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Filmmaker Matthew Heineman examines the state of the ongoing drug problem along the U.S.-Mexican border.


Matthew Heineman
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 18 wins & 36 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview:
Tim Nailer Foley Tim Nailer Foley ... Himself (as Tim 'Nailer' Foley)
José Manuel 'El Doctor' Mireles José Manuel 'El Doctor' Mireles ... Himself, leader and founder, Autodefensas
Paco Valencia Paco Valencia ... Himself, Autodefensas Comandante
Chaneque Chaneque ... Himself, drug cartel thug
Caballo Caballo ... Himself, drug cartel thug
Enrique Peña Nieto ... Himself
Ana Valencia Ana Valencia ... Herself, Manuel Mireles' wife
Estanislao Beltránin Estanislao Beltránin ... Himself, spokesman, Autodefensas
Janet Fields Janet Fields ... Herself, Tim Foley's girlfriend
Nicolás Sierra Nicolás Sierra ... Himself (as as Nicolás Sierra 'El Gordo')
Karla Karla ... Herself
Alfredo Castillo Cervantes Alfredo Castillo Cervantes ... Himself, Mexican political (as Alfredo Castillo)
María Imilse Arrué María Imilse Arrué ... Herself (as María Imilse)


A physician in Michoacán, Mexico leads a citizen uprising against the drug cartel that has wreaked havoc on the region for years. Across the U.S. border, a veteran heads a paramilitary group working to prevent Mexico's drug wars from entering U.S. territory. Written by Anonymous

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Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

: Rated R for violent disturbing images, language, drug content and brief sexual material | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »


Official Sites:

Official site [Japan]




English | Spanish

Release Date:

3 July 2015 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Cartel land See more »

Filming Locations:

Sasabe, Arizona, USA See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$124,000, 17 July 2015, Limited Release

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs




Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


The Autodefensas group shown in the film was created by civilians to stand up against the cartels because the government is overrun with corruption. Individuals speak about how little the Mexican president (Enrique Peña Nieto) is doing. In the film, the Autodefensas is shown celebrating its one year anniversary on February 24, 2014. On that exact same day, TIME Magazine ran an issue with the Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto with the headline "Saving Mexico." Nieto reportedly paid TIME $44,000 for this cover article coincidentally released on the same day as the Autodefensas anniversary. See more »


José Manuel 'El Doctor' Mireles: Look, we can escape the Templars. But you cannot escape the government.
See more »


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User Reviews

more South, less North
26 February 2016 | by Quinoa1984See all my reviews

Although he hasn't made the technical "best" documentary of the year), it's hard to see a documentary filmmaker who stuck his neck out more, literally, than Matthew Heienman to make Cartel Land (maybe Joshua Oppenheimer, in his way, put himself in danger to make his Indonesia docs, but he wasn't caught up in anything like this). He puts himself into some incredibly dangerous scenes, and from what I could tell it's not at all the case of him trying to get some extra dramatics or tension where there is none. On the contrary he follows the Mexican group the Autodefensas (at times when they are in the midst of shoot-outs and enemy fire) in their rise to become a major presence in Michoacan, Mexico, as well as how they became corrupted by the very forces they are/were up against.

So points automatically have to go to the director for that, and he clearly is passionate about this issue - and as the wisest choice he doesn't put himself into it in the slightest (very much the objective, here and there more like a war cine-journalist when with his camera on the streets and roads and interrogation rooms). But I do wish that he had stuck to the story of the Doctor Meirelles and his group, as he and the world that he's in is just more captivating and stronger as a story of a rise and fall than that of the American who is supposed to be the 'counter-point' or other side example.

His story, as a man who has split off from society (in part due to the 2008 economic collapse, among other issues), and formed a small would be (?) militia patrolling parts of the Mexican border for immigrants, could be compelling. But it's not even so much that the contrast or point-counter-point of him and the Doctor might not have some interest (I think the point ultimately is one guy really is fighting for his life and for others, and the other is more about rounding up illegal immigrants where, for some reason, border patrol doesn't seem to be around), it's more a flaw of filmmaking. I think that if Heineman had kept it all down as a story of the Autodefensas, he would have a full movie to tell, and indeed the two places - on the US/Mexico border and Michoacan, which is over a thousand miles away to the south - are so far apart that they don't have much relation to one another exactly. Of course the cartels are a problem in one spot as much as the other, yet on a simple film editing level, it throws off the balance.

This could have been two documentaries, perhaps, again to bring up Oppenheimer, as compliments to one another. It's a shame that it doesn't work much better, since there's a lot of potent, incendiary stuff here. When Cartel Land works best, it all but indicts a country for not doing far more than it should, or what the president or government claims to do (again, this is the documentary, I'd have to read up more to know if the filmmaker doesn't show more sides to what the police or other military forces may or may be doing for the Autodefensas to rise up in the first place), and that corruption and crime becomes just a fact of life. It displays another form of terrorism that seems not as apparent as, say, Islamic fundamentalism but is no less a threat to the people where it takes place, though oddly enough what the film shows is the danger of vigilantism as well.

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