The Atlantic Selects
The Absurd Theatrics of the Border Wall
Jan 31, 2020
Luis Gutiérrez Arias and John Henry Theisen
In November 2017, eight imposing edifices were built in Otay Mesa, near Tijuana. Some were topped with slick steel and spiky barbed wire; others featured bollard-style columns affixed to 30-foot-high slabs of metal and concrete. These were the winning prototypes of President Donald Trump’s border-wall design contest. The requirements were straightforward: Design an impenetrable wall built to stretch across the rugged and varied terrain of the 1,900-mile U.S.-Mexico border.
The day that the filmmakers Luis Gutiérrez Arias and John Henry Theisen arrived in Tijuana to document the prototypes, a military-grade tactical team was testing the structural integrity of each design. Their short documentary, It’s Going to Be Beautiful, features evocative imagery of the border walls as they are being tested for resiliency. The film casts an absurdist light on the project itself. (All eight designs reportedly failed the basic breach test and posed significant and expensive construction challenges.)
“The subject of the prototypes was interesting to us because they offered a visually striking way to portray the border conflict,” Theisen told me. “The imagery of the walls is so bizarre that the film became about expressing what we felt when we were in the vicinity of the border.”
“What was interesting to me about this [border-wall contest] was its theatrical quality,” Arias told me, “and how dystopian these eight pieces of the wall looked and felt. All of these different textures and colors seemed more like a movie set or a piece of land art than a project related to national security.
“We believed the images were powerful enough to say what we needed to say,” Arias added.
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Author: Emily Buder
About This Series
A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.