Documentaries about illegal aliens crossing over from Mexico are plentiful these days as the national debate over immigration waxes hotter. What distinguishes "El Inmigrante" is less the dramatic shooting death and miscarriage of justice at its center than the unusual sensitivity and openness of filmmakers John Sheedy, David Eckenrode and John Eckenrode to the distinctive rhythms and belief systems of people on both sides of the border.

Documentaries about illegal aliens crossing over from Mexico are plentiful these days as the national debate over immigration waxes hotter. What distinguishes “El Inmigrante” is less the dramatic shooting death and miscarriage of justice at its center than the unusual sensitivity and openness of filmmakers John Sheedy, David Eckenrode and John Eckenrode to the distinctive rhythms and belief systems of people on both sides of the border. Arrestingly composed docu, well traveled on the fest circuit, should safely emigrate to cable.

Pic opens on the funeral of Eusebio de Haro Espinosa, a young man gunned down and left to die in Texas. Officials of the Texas town where he was killed say he was shot while running away from an old man and his wife who hunted him down in a car. The couple had turned him away from their ranch when he stopped to ask for water earlier.

Why septuagenarian Charles Blackwell shot Eusebio remains a mystery. Friends of Blackwell float improbable accident scenarios. Eusebio’s father hypothesizes endemic racism. The sheriff is still trying to figure out how part of Blackwell’s indictment involving weapons magically disappeared when his case was processed and the sentence suspended.

But in the process of piecing together the sequence of events, a much larger canvas comes into focus: the daily ritual of border crossings. Wetbacks gather in trucks, filling water jugs, resting in the shade, or listening to advice from concerned activist organizations.

Horseback border control guards exercise their mounts while speaking of the unexpected perks of their job: They arrest a lot of friendly people who tell them interesting stories.

Armed vigilantes survey the ground with binoculars and fret over what is penetrating the largely unguarded border in the wake of 9/11.

Meanwhile, down Mexico way, the filmmakers settle in with the warm, friendly, and very articulate de Haro family as a seemingly endless succession of Eusebio’s siblings introduce themselves to the camera. The family members reminisce about Eusebio while his father struggles to come to terms his unpunished murder.

Tech credits are superior, Sheedy’s DV lensing particularly impressive.

El Inmigrante

U.S.-Mexico

Production

A 6512 Prods./Ouzel Motion Pictures/Impala Roja production. Produced by John Sheedy, David Eckenrode, John Eckenrode. Executive producer, Rick Carlson. Directed by John Sheedy, David Eckenrode, John Eckenrode.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Sheedy, David Eckenrode; editor, David Eckenrode, John Eckenrode; music, Matthew Valverde; production designer, John Eckenrode; sound, Jason Edwards. Reviewed at New York Latino Film Festival, July 26, 2006. Running time: 90 MIN. (Spanish, English dialogue)
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