In the United States, narcissistic musicians say all the time that music is a life-or-death matter.In Mexico, some musicians say the same thing, but in a literal sense.Shaul Schwarz is the director of "Narco Cultura," screening in this year's U.S. Documentary Competition in the Sundance Film Festival. An Israel native who has gained fame through photojournalism, Schwarz has dived in the deep end with his first feature.Just as Americans once celebrated criminals such as Billy the Kid and Jesse James, Schwarz argues that some Mexicans glamorize the narco-traffickers as outlaws awash in fame and money. Musicians are largely responsible for the image that obscures the life-and-death hazards of the Drug War, much the way many American rappers in the late 1980s and early '90s sought to paint life as a "gangsta" on the mean streets as something to aspire to.He chose two main figures to help tell his story: a Los Angeles narco-corrido singer and a Juárez crime-scene investigator.Schwarz answered questions posed by The Salt Lake Tribune about his reactions to his film accepted at the festival, how he gained access and how photojournalism, while different, helped his foray into film.
What was your response to your film being accepted into Sundance?I was in a cab with my girlfriend on the way to the JFK when I got a text from my producer Jay Van Hoy saying "on with Sundance now, congratulations, they were blown away." When I read it, I choked up and covered my face with my hand. I was speechless and just handed my phone to my girlfriend. Then I suddenly got scared because the text didn't clarify that I am actually in. "You are in," my girlfriend said. "Of course that's what he means."
Why were you attracted to this subject matter?I don't think that my attraction to this subject is entirely a product of my Israeli background. Growing up in Israel did affect me deeply and it was what led me to the path of becoming a photojournalist. Growing up near conflict made me curious about how things look like from the other side, and the camera became the vehicle to get there. Since starting to photograph in Israel, I have been intrigued by how conflict rewrites culture in our societies. After moving to New York in 1999, I started covering Mexico frequently. I covered a variety of different issues from indigenous movements to transvestites to travel stories. When the drug war began to rage out of control in 2008, it seemed natural for me to cover it.