Published November 22, 2013
LOS ANGELES – Despite the growing number of cartel-related murders across the border, narcotics traffickers are still lauded as the ultimate models of fame and fortune for an increasing number of Mexicans and Latinos living in the Americas. And now, they're being glorified as celebrities within the Los Angeles-based entertainment community. Known as "narcocorridas," some musicians depict traffickers as enchanting outlaws.
"These traffickers are the new Robin Hoods. The younger generation looks up to them. Take a 12-year-old watching his mom making less than five dollars an hour in a factory, then he sees the kids of the cartels being driven around in big trucks and treated as the big, bad cool kids," Israeli-born filmmaker Shaul Schwarz, who digs deep into this phenomenon in his new documentary "Narco Cultura," told FOX411. "It's the dream of the narco."
Over a period of two years, Schwarz follows these musicians in the film - some born and raised in Southern California - through their performances and their commissions by gangsters wanting fame of their own by being referenced in the lyrics along with their lavish lifestyles.
The film examines the violence this musical genre has inspired, told through the eyes of Rich Soto, a Juarez crime investigator on the front line of the ongoing conflict. It also features L.A-based narcocorrido singer/songwriter Edgar Quintero.
"One of the biggest challenges in the doc was getting the access while staying safe," Schwarz explained. "We were always pushing to get through the character stories to the heart of the drug war, and for that we had to win their full trust."
And although the filmmaker previously spent several years as a photojournalist documenting wars in the Middle East, exploring this topic proved to be far more frightening.
"There were quite a few incidences where we had to leave town in a hurry. Our camera crew asked questions that the Mexican media just doesn't ask at crime scenes. And just the idea of two gringos with cameras in their hands was enough to be alarming," Schwarz said. "During filming, four of the crime agents we were working with were murdered."
Ultimately, the director hopes audiences walk away from "Narco Cultura" with a deeper understanding of just how popular the narcocorridos are becoming in the U.S. But most importantly, he wants viewers to recognize that this isn't a faraway problem.
"There is no military solution, we can't just throw more guns on the border and throw more money at the border patrol. That won't stop the power of the cartels," Schwarz argued. "We have to look at legalization and education. This is not a Mexican drug war. It's a Mexican-American drug war. It's billions of American tax payer dollars spent... we are all part of this."
"Narco Cultura" opens in select theaters November 22.