A solidly constructed, well-shot docu about the lethal perils of truth-telling south of the border, “Reportero” focuses on a single journalist, Sergio Haro, and his crusading Tijuana newsweekly, Zeta. Helmer Bernardo Ruiz effortlessly shuttles between the individual reporter and collectivist paper, which supplies a supportive if beleaguered bulwark against the violence and corruption engulfing Mexico. With his weathered face, unshakable dedication and understated commentary, Haro makes a worthy protagonist, giving Ruiz’s docu a strong throughline, while the murders of numerous Zeta reporters up the dramatic impact. Limited theatrical play, prior to the pic’s skedded airing on PBS, appears possible.
Reporting reps a dangerous profession down Mexico way, claiming the lives of numerous journalists. While most papers censor themselves, refusing to cover potentially explosive stories on narco trafficking or political collusion, Zeta publishes names and photos of those responsible. As a result, the paper’s founder, Jesus Blancornelas, was ambushed by 10 gunmen, narrowly escaping death when shrapnel from a bullet entered the eye of the main hitman, killing him instantly. As illustrated by news footage, two other popular Zeta staffers proved less lucky, gunned down in broad daylight by those they exposed. Haro drives by the assassination sites of his colleagues, none of whose killers were ever brought to justice.
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Ruiz often films Haro behind the wheel of his car, musing in voiceover as he drives to research a story about poor people living off a garbage dump or wends his way to snap photos of young Mexicans being targeted by drug cartels. Haro’s passion for social justice leads him to fight for in-depth articles that never sell as well as more sensational, less analytical blood-and-guts crime stories.
In contrast to Haro and his wide-ranging field operations, Adela Navarro, who basically runs the paper, is always filmed within the confines of the newsroom, explaining the history of Zeta, discussing policy or handing out assignments. Her single-minded dedication to the cause of investigative reporting is equal to Haro’s.
More than anything else, “Reportero” is a film about process. The camera follows in detail the rigors of printing, transporting, distributing and selling the paper; it traces the inception, research and writing of Haro’s articles just as it follows his wife’s methodical dinner preparations. Similarly, the camera sits in on the process of decision making at the paper, the exchange of ideas and the shaping of future issues, all set against the murderous violence that intrudes via news clips and gruesome photographs.
Against this backdrop, where chaos and impunity reign, even the most flagrant crimes bring no redress, and the price of pursuing truth may be death, the deliberate, organized work of Zeta journos assumes particular significance.