Kieran Fitzgerald is the director of The Ballad of Esequiel Hernández. After the film aired on July 8, viewers wrote in with questions for Kieran on the POV Blog. Read on as he answers questions about the equipment used in making the film, the decision to include President George W. Bush in the story and more.
Robert asks: Hi. What equipment did you use to shoot and edit your documentary?
Kieran Fitzgerald: We used a Canon XL2 for all of the interviews. The recreation still photos were taken from 16mm footage. We edited on Final Cut Pro.
Rob asks: In 1997 Bill Clinton was president. Why did you feel like Bush should play such a prominent role in your show?
Fitzgerald: Until the end of the film, Bush Sr. and Clinton have equal screen time. The narration explains that the Clinton administration increased the military’s participation in the ‘War on Drugs’ and there is a clip of Clinton declaring that he will fight the drug trade more rigorously than Bush. The film is highly critical, I believe, of the way both the Pentagon and the Department of Justice under Clinton handled the Hernández case.
Bush Sr. reappears at the end of the film for two reasons: I felt it was important for people to know about the posse comitatus law that prohibits military from acting as law enforcement on domestic soil (Bush Sr. was in charge of bypassing this law during the Reagan administration); and I wanted to tell the story of the Madrid family’s connection with George H.W. and Barbara Bush.
For me, the ending of the film is not an attack on the Bush family at all — it is an anecdote that demonstrates how the top of our government can be closely related to families in the most remote parts of our country. As Enrique Madrid says, it shows ‘how small the United States is.’ I believe it is important for any president, Republican or Democrat, to remember that border communities are also a part of the greater American community.
Justin asks: Hernández mistook the marines as a dog, the marines mistook Hernández as a combatant drug dealer. BOTH were wrong. Who shot first? Would you have done a 2.5 hr. film on the marine, (his family and any other person you could find) who may have died because of a gun shot inflicted from Hernández? Doubtly.
Fitzgerald: You may be right that had Hernández accidentally shot one of the Marines I wouldn’t have made a film about it. Part of what attracted me to this story was its dramatic detail — the way misinformation and poor decisions kept escalating toward the tragic conclusion. I was drawn first to the nature of the story, not to its political implications.
That said, I believe that the political implications had a Marine been shot instead would be no different. In both cases, we do a disservice to our own troops by expecting them to act as law enforcement within the United States after training them to fight wars. Whether a soldier gets shot at, or shoots an innocent American and has to live with the consequences, they are victims of the same misguided policy.
Josiah says: This documentary’s fact checking is very questionable… 1970 at Kent State was not the last time the military killed American civilians, 1992 during the L.A. riots three were killed by the Army National Guard, all three were fully justified. It seems like you wanted to make the inference that whenever the military is involved in stateside action, only innocent people are killed. That is absolutely wrong and I hope you and your staff makes the appropriate corrections.
I know about those three because my dad was in the California National Guard (185th Armor) and was one of the first 2,000 Guardsmen sent to the riots. I’m also sure that if some real research is done more examples could be found between 1970 and 1997, most likely fully justified.
I do agree with you that the military should never be involved with non-emergency law enforcement activities. Only in riots or natural disasters were the existing law enforcement is disabled is the only time they should be called in.
Fitzgerald: You are right about the L.A. riots, but I am not aware of any other instances in which [the] National Guard killed American civilians between Kent State and Esequiel’s death. As far as the active duty military goes, it’s my understanding that the last civilian death, prior to Hernández in 1997, occurred during the 1967 Detroit riots. (We have consulted with a number of academics on this subject).
In neglecting to mention the L.A. riots it was not at all my intention to imply that [the] military are exclusively involved in unjustified killings at home. What I did want to imply, and perhaps I should have been more explicit in this regard, is that Esequiel was the first ‘innocent’ civilian to be killed by active duty military or National Guard since Kent State — that is, his was the first unjustified killing.