Skip to main content

Ready For War: Showtime Documentary Highlights Plight of Deported US Army Vets #TIFF19

Ready For War
Directed by Andrew Renzi
Look for it on Showtime October 26, 2019
& On Demand November 22 

The person who left never came home.
I struggle every day just to feel human.

Ever wonder what happens to those US veterans who are deported to Mexico? Every now and then, there is a story in the news as a veteran, a legal US resident, is deported, but if that's all you know about the subject, it's hard to truly grasp its dimensions.
Hector Barajas in Ready For War
As the documentary Ready For War notes, I.C.E. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) doesn't keep any data on just how many veterans end up on the deportation list. But, as the film also illustrates, there are communities in Mexico that number hundreds, if not thousands, of people who put their lives on the line for a country that literally tossed them out.

In truth, immigrants have been fighting for America as long as there has been an America. Ready For War fleshes out the headlines by following the stories of three vets who were sent back to a country they didn't know at various stages of the process.

Hector Barajas has been separated from his family back in the US for 14 years as we meet him. He's nonetheless relentlessly positive about his prospects for re-entry as a naturalized citizen, and a super patriot with an office full of American flags. In the meantime, he's in Juárez running a service to help re-integrate the constant stream of new arrivals, trying to keep his hopes up.

Miguel Perez' case is just entering the American judicial system. He's been released from one jail, only to be snapped up by ICE and jailed indefinitely, with a view to eventual deportation, and separation from his family in Chicago.

Many immigrants assume that, when they join the US Army, they are automatically given citizenship. That's just not true. As the cases in the film illustrate, a familiar pattern emerges. A vet returns from one, and often more, tours of duty a changed man, suffering from PTSD, depression, and other ailments both mental and physical. He drinks too much, or drugs his problems away. He gets into trouble and lands in jail for a non-violent offence like possession or even drunk and disorderly.

And that's it. One chance, no mercy. Instead of getting the medical help that his service entitles him to, he's deported through a loophole in the law that was created in the 1990s.

Director Andrew Renzi's punctuates the stories they tell, and the institutional gloom of the ICE prison, by taking viewers on a nerve wracking ride through hell in cartel territory, riding alongside a cartel enforcer by the name of El Vet. He too was sent back to Mexico, and deposited right in the middle of a cartel war. Threatened with violence and death on only to himself and his family, and abandoned by the system, he becomes a full fledged member. Inside abandoned and bleak interiors, we see his masked figure as he cooks meth for them...and much worse.

The cartels, see, recognize the value of having this influx of men with American military training. As El Vet tells the camera, drug enforcer hits once looked like a messy show of violence. Today, they are executed with the precision of a military operation. The US Army, in other words, is fueling the violence that constantly simmers at the border.

"The cartel knows the soldiers are valuable," El Vet says matter of factly. "We got skills."

Director Andrew Renzi already had a couple of documentaries under his belt when he got wind of the potential of this story. "I was introduced to Hector Barajas by a colleague," he recalls. Renzi was attracted to a story about second chances, as well as the growing realization this was a much bigger issue than he'd supposed.

After a trip to Juárez, Renzi made a local connection who introduced him to Miguel and El Vet, the latter being a dangerous prospect from the outset.

"Probably the hardest part was how to tell the cartel story," Renzi says.

Filming took the better part of two years. Even though it's a documentary, Renzi wanted to treat the story as fiction, and builds a narrative through the three men and their journeys through bureaucratic hell. "How do I tell it as a taut thriller?"
El Vet, Ready For War
Much of it was shot very simply with only Renzi and cinematographer Jeremy Peterman, and their subjects. That led to the jittery sequences of cartel ride-along, and a very real sense of inherent danger. "It was really important for me to show how far this could go." Even if they could trust El Vet, however, his environment was unpredictable and violent. "The biggest fear is not him, it's the people that come for him." It led to hair raising situations. "I had a bag over my head for three hours," he recalls. "There were moments when I thought, I've gone too far."

Footage with figures like US Senator, Army veteran and advocate Tammy Duckworth add a larger context to the story. Renzi's hope is that the issue is seen as one that can cross party lines. Shouldn't those who have put up their lives for the United States get some help for their post-war troubles, instead of an immediate deportation?

Visually, Peterman intercuts broad views of the often bleak areas where the men live with the jittery secret camera of the El Vet segments, and Hector's office in Juárez, stuffed with upbeat Americana. It's effective in adding texture to the story line.

What's most heartbreaking is that, even with deportation, most of the vets are still devoted to America, and don't regret their military service.

The list of executive producers who got behind the story is impressive in itself, including David Ayer, Chris Long, Tara Long, Aubrey 'Drake' Graham, Adel 'Future' Nur, and Vinnie Malhotra.

Director Andrew Renzi was born in Washington, DC, and studied literary arts at Brown University. He has directed the short films The Fort (2012) and Karaoke! (13), the documentaries Fishtail (2014) and They Fight (2018), and the fiction feature The Benefactor (2015). Ready for War (2019) is his latest documentary, and got its World Premiere September 8, 2019 at the Toronto International Film Festival.


What Else Is Hot This Week?

FACTORY presents World Premiere ACTS OF FAITH November 19 to 28 2020 - Free Livestream

 From a media release: World Premiere FACTORY presents  ACTS OF FAITH by David Yee Directed by Nina Lee Aquino Starring Natasha Mumba November 19 – 28, 2020 @ 7:30PM Streamed live for 6 performances Free of charge TORONTO (October 19, 2020) - To kick off its groundbreaking 2020/21 season, Factory presents the world premiere of acts of faith, by multi-award winning Asian Canadian playwright David Yee, directed by Nina Lee Aquino, and starring Natasha Mumba. Written specifically to be performed for a digital platform, acts of faith will stream live to audiences at home for six performances, November 19-28, 2020.  Thanks to the generous support of the TD Bank Group, admission is being offered entirely free of charge to audiences across the country and beyond. acts of faith tells a story about the power of faith, the inescapable persistence of our online identities, and the nature of truth in a digital age. The story follows Faith, a young woman who gets mistaken for a prophet. When a ques

Jewellery With A Conscience: Kind Karma

Jewellery With A Conscience: Kind Karma Check Out The Collection Kind Karma blends timeless jewellery with a social conscience. Founded in Toronto in 2017, the company makes classic jewellery pieces using a unique business model - the artisans who produce the handmade pieces are at-risk and homeless youth.  "I always wanted to be an entrepreneur," explains founder Laurinda Lee-Retter. "I wanted to give back." She combined her passions in Kind Karma. Laurinda serves as designer for the jewellery line, with pieces that are classic and minimalist, and that can be worn with anything. "I made jewellery as a hobby when I was young," she says.  The jewellery is then crafted by hand by the young artisans from sterling silver or gold fill, a durable construction that uses multiple layers of real gold over jeweller's brass. The result is much more resilient than gold plate. All the pieces are hypoallergenic, won't tarnish, and are designed to last for years

Fashionable Fabrics For A Cause: Vlisco Raises Over $500K For DRC's City Of Joy

From a media release: Vlisco Raises Over $500K To Help Female Survivors Of Violence In The DRC The donation will fund the building of a creative and textiles school in the City of Joy  Vlisco to relaunch collection targeting $1M in donations For more information or to buy click here November 2020 – Dutch wax textile fabric company, Vlisco, is donating a total of $512,000 (USD) to fund a new fashion school and production workshop in the City of Joy, a women’s transformational sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The announcement marks one year since the company launched a special collection honouring the “world’s strongest women,” symbolising their recovery from rape and trauma, and their journey from pain to power. City of Joy collection by Oritsegbubemi Ogisi - Photo by Atong Atem for Vlisco The original collection was showcased to a global audience by the women of the City of Joy at a gala event in Kinshasa on November 25th 2019. Five female, African fashion designers

Travel By The Glass: Seven Cocktails From Around The World

Travel By The Glass: Seven Cocktails From Around The World W e may not be able to travel, listen to live music or eat in restaurants, but we can always drink. Here's a look at some famous cocktails, and the stories surrounding their origins from all over the world. The Bloody Caesar (Calgary, Alberta Canada) The story goes that back in 1969, the Calgary Inn asked bartender Walter Chell to create a new cocktail to celebrate the opening of a new restaurant inside the hotel. Taking his inspiration from the restaurant's Italian cuisine, it took him fully three months to ocme up with the Caesar - as inspired by spaghetti alla vongole, which is essentially pasta with clam sauce.  Chell crushed clams for their juices, mixing it with tomato juice and spices. The classic version includes clam nectar - nowadays more often substituted by Clamato juice - Worcestershire sauce and celery salt. In an interview, Chell said he also added a dash of oregano. Image by Alexas_Fotos (Pixabay)  The M

Electric RnB: Tropic Return With New Single 'Down'

From a media release: Tropic Return With New Single "Down" “Down” is available to buy/stream now on all platforms R ising Brooklyn-based duo Tropic have made an impressive return with new single “Down”. Tropic, which is formed of electronic producer/DJ Phuse and R&B singer-songwriter Jo-B Sebastian, once again showcase the stunning lyricism and sensual vocals that have garnered support from industry tastemakers and helped them amass millions of streams across Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube and more since their 2018 debut. Blending R&B textures, electronic landscapes, pop hooks and funk rhythms courtesy of Phuse's slick, luscious production and Jo-B's poetic lyrics and irresistible melodies, "Down" looks set to be another hit to add to the duo’s striking collection. It follows previous 2020 releases "Lights Out (Redux)", "Always Be My Baby", "Secret" and "Paradise". Speaking on “Down”, Tropic explained, "‘Do