(This review originally appeared at Reel Film News on March 15, 2013.)
I have just finished watching Harvest of Empire; the final credits are rolling up the screen and I’m sitting here in stunned silence.
The American news really makes a big deal about our immigration problems here, yet a lot of our pundits and talking heads don’t know the full story, or don’t want to tell us the other side of things. The American people are fed a lot of generalization these days, relying only on what our 24-hour news cycle tells us – our borders are being invaded by Latinos who are only focused on making life here difficult for us and taking handouts and equal rights afforded to legal citizens of this country. However, how many of those people really know exactly why this is happening? How many of us know of our government’s meddling in the affairs of these South American countries that have made this situation the hot button topic that it has become? Harvest of Empire seeks to educate and perhaps tell the side of the story you may not have heard, or the side of the story the media at large doesn’t want you to know.
The structure of Harvest of Empire takes us through the stories of so many of our neighbors in South America, from Cuba on down to El Salvador; each chapter in this movie highlights a different South American country, with ample reasons as to why the US immigration problem has taken over the minds and hearts of our citizenry. And not all these stories are the sanitized, safe versions that our politicians and newsmakers want you to know; these stories are rife with political unrest and dead bodies strewn across the streets. To be sure, Harvest of Empire is a maddening documentary, no matter what side of the immigration divide you’ve taken. We are told tales of torture, dictatorships, disappearances of dissenters en masse, and other rebellion-squelching tactics each country’s government undertakes in order to keep its population in line.
At the heart of it all, according to this documentary, is the United States government’s involvement. Stories are told and newsreel footage is shown about how we’ve either trained the armies who wind up terrorizing the populace, groomed the politicians to install governments sympathetic to our aims, or supported rebellions through illegal dealings. It seems that, according to the folks providing narration for this documentary, our government is responsible, more or less, for the immigration problems we’re seeing today; what Harvest of Empire does is provide tangible, fact-supported reasons why we’ve brought this problem on ourselves.
What it doesn’t show you, however, is what has become of the more criminal of some of these immigrants, as that facet is glossed over and easily forgotten. There are salient points to what the filmmakers are trying to say, but it winds up being lost in a sea of open-borders-only rhetoric, with anyone speaking to the contrary being portrayed as paranoid or delusional. They’ve amassed testimony from all sorts of people, from high-profile politicians and artists, to regular people who survived the torture and the terror; their stories are all worth hearing, but it’s a very one-sided argument. As each chapter closes, a statistic is shown about how a certain amount of each country’s former citizens are currently living in the US, as if these population figures will be the spoonful of sugar that helps the prejudiced viewer come to terms with just how much their country has been populated by immigrants. These figures tell us that immigrants have become a part of our lives, one that is not easily dismissed; Harvest of Empire almost expects us to swallow these figures in a way that says, “Deal with it.” While the immigration debate still rages on and a great deal of our country’s collective worries concern border security, this documentary reminds us that our country was founded by immigrants, and that showing a blind eye to those truly in need is hypocrisy. Harvest of Empire provides a point of view that many should at least look at once, if only to try to understand where we’ve been and where we’re going.
FINAL GRADE: B+
Reel Film News Movie Review by Eddie Pasa