Making a War Zone Camera-Ready

2015 Global Thinkers Matthew Heineman and Johanna Schwartz discuss the challenges of making a film—and earning a subject’s trust—amidst guns, violence, and suspicion.


In this week’s Global Thinkers podcast, directors Matthew Heineman, director of Cartel Land, and Johanna Schwartz, director of They Will Have to Kill Us First, talk about how they gained access to some of the sketchiest places in Mexico and Mali in order to bring powerful, character-driven documentaries to Western screens. FP staff writer Elias Groll hosts.

About the participants:

Matthew Heineman is a 2015 Global Thinker and the Oscar-nominated director of Cartel Land, a film he made after embedding in 2013 with the Autodefensas, an armed vigilante group fighting the Knights Templar drug cartel in Mexico’s Michoacán state. The documentary, which also follows armed-U.S. citizen volunteers patrolling the Arizona-Mexico border, has been celebrated for its extraordinary access to some of the world’s most dangerous territory–including meth labs and torture rooms. Heineman was honored as the best director of a U.S. documentary at Sundance last year and is the recipient of the 2016 George Polk Award for Documentary Film. Follow him on Twitter: @MattHeineman.

Johanna Schwartz is a 2015 Global Thinker and the director of They Will Have to Kill Us First. In 2013, she was supposed to attend a music festival in Mali, but it was canceled when the government was overthrown and militant Islamists overran the country’s north. The subsequent regime imposed a draconian version of sharia law that effectively banned music, in turn pushing Johanna to spend the next few years documenting musicians displaced by conflict and in danger, yet fighting to keep their art alive. After its world premiere at South by Southwest, the Austin Chronicle called it “[s]ocial journalism of the highest order … by turns horrific and front-loaded with sonic heroism.” Follow her on Twitter: @yoyoschwartz.

Elias Groll is a staff writer at FP. Follow him on Twitter: @EliasGroll.

This podcast was recorded at FP’s annual Global Thinkers celebration in Washington, D.C.

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