Beth Bird’s “Everyone Their Grain of Sand” casts a well-meaning but overly indulgent eye on a struggling Baja California community. Some detached analysis would not have gone awry in this earnest docu, which compromises its innately heartrending subject — the incalculable human costs of globalization and government bureaucracy gone haywire — by relying almost entirely on emotionalism and power-to-the-people platitudes for its impact. Winner of the Los Angeles Film Festival’s documentary prize, Spanish-language pic looks primed for more fest attention but could benefit in the interim from tighter editing and trimming.
Located just outside Tijuana, Maclovio Rojas — an impoverished cluster of small huts and few roofs — has long faced the threat of government bulldozers. Hoping to build a highway to serve corporate interests, authorities have withheld such necessities as water and electricity from Maclovio Rojas. They also have refused to recognize the community school — a cluster of buildings fashioned entirely out of American garage doors which stands as an inspiring emblem of the community’s pluck and initiative in the face of willful neglect.
This is a town that, for all its petitioning, ultimately does things its own way. Rather than wait for the government, for example, residents tapped directly into nearby water pipes, prompting legal action that eventually spiraled out of control when community leader Nicolasa Ramos was arrested. (Two others, Hortensia Hernandez and Artemio Osuna, went into hiding, where they remain to this day.)
Docu, which was lensed circa 2001-02, follows the day-to-day activities of these “companeros” — requesting loans so they can pay their schoolteachers, driving along the hillside announcing town meetings by megaphone — as well as their periodic excursions into the city, where they stage tireless protests and rally for fair treatment.
While effective as an illustration of communal resilience, scenes are ultimately too numerous and undistinguished to gather much urgency, and their overly expository nature lends pic a stagy, at times inauthentic feel.
Straightforward underdog narrative gets a shot of adrenaline halfway through, however, with the introduction of high-powered government official Cecilia Barone de Castellanos. It’s all but impossible not to hiss at this ready-made villainess, who dismisses the community’s every request with smug exasperation.
Ironically, Barone points up what’s missing from the rest of “Everyone”: With the occasional exception of the spirited Hernandez, pic doesn’t exhibit much in the way of personality or individuation. While the teamwork-oriented message of Maclovio Rojas comes through loud and clear, its people don’t particularly register as individuals.
The rare moments when they do, however, are quietly glorious, as when a mother talks distractedly to the camera while preparing a meal for her children. Her kitchen has no roof and her stove is an old trashcan, but her every movement — slicing a tomato, preparing dough for tortillas — is recorded in meticulous, mouthwatering detail. In one throwaway shot, docu captures a moving portrait of a woman who, within the modesty of her surroundings, has fashioned a real home.