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Dark, Darker, Darkest

'Narco Cultura' and 'Escape From Tomorrow' subvert the mainstream

By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Sept. 20, 2013

<i>Narco Cultura</i>
Narco Cultura

If Fantastic Fest celebrates anything, it's fringe culture. But this year, two of its most powerful films turn their lenses on the dark side of the mainstream.

As a photographer for Time, Shaul Schwarz chronicled the impact of the Mexican drug war on the city of Juarez. Yet he wanted to catch more than just the sight of bullet-riddled corpses. With his documentary Narco Cultura, he explores the impact the drug war has on culture on both sides of the Rio Grande River, through the medium of the narcocorridos – the drug ballads that gangsters commission to celebrate their murderous work. Once underground, now they're on sale at Walmart. Schwarz said, "At first, I was really angry, because I come from years of covering the deaths and the bodies, and these guys are celebrating it." Instead, he became fascinated by how crime becomes a cultural commodity. "Most Latino kids who want to go out and be the bad boy, that's what's becoming the mainstream."

<i>Escape From Tomorrow</i>
Escape From Tomorrow

As for Escape From Tomorrow, only the music may be a fine emulation of the saccharine soundtrack of the Magic Kingdom. Shot guerrilla-style in Disneyland and Disney World, writer/director Randy Moore's debut narrative is set in the mind-bending shadows of the Happiest Place on Earth. It's true punk cinema, subverting the corporation's iconic characters and rides. Thanks to parody laws and the fair use doctrine, it evaded the attorneys of the House of Mouse. Not easy, going up against the world's most powerful entertainment brand. "There's a real fear of Disney," Moore said. "The way people talk about it, it's like they're talking about the Mafia."

For all the controversy, the shoot itself was surprisingly easy. After all, as Moore noted, everyone at the park has a camera, so his crew just looked like more tourists. He said, "It's not like you're driving down the street and there's a film shoot going on. Every single person is doing the same thing we are. Getting people out of the way, waiting for the line to move, that was a pain."

For longer interviews with Schwarz and Moore, visit austinchronicle.com/fantastic-fest.


Narco Cultura screens Friday, Sept. 20, 5:05pm, and Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2:30pm. Escape From Tomorrow screens Friday, Sept. 20, 11:30am, and Thursday, Sept. 26, 5:30pm.

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