Gabriel Ripstein On Why He Made a Film About Smugglers Taking US Guns into Mexico

First-time director and screenwriter Gabriel Ripstein has known cinema his entire life. His father is renowned Mexican filmmaker Arturo Ripstein, who made his first film, 1966’s Tiempo de morir, from a script written by Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez. For his first film, 600 Miles, the novice Ripstein uses the illegal weapons scandal known in 2010 as Fast and Furious as the basis of his narrative. In 600 Miles, actor Tim Roth (The Hateful Eight) stars as a U.S. Border Patrol agent who attempts to capture a Mexican gun smuggler (Kristyan Ferrer), but is kidnapped in the process. The film was Mexico’s submission for Academy Award consideration this year, but was ultimately not chosen as one of the five nominees for Best Foreign Language Film. It did, however, win Ripstein a Best First Feature award at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival.

During an interview with Remezcla, Ripstein talked about growing up with a filmmaker as a father, his personal opinion on gun laws in the U.S., and why he felt compelled to make a movie about arms smugglers.

On growing up the son of director Arturo Ripstein

“As a kid in school, I stood out. I actually thought it was pretty cool that my dad wasn’t a lawyer or a banker or something boring.”

I watched him constantly – all the time. By far, my favorite place to be was on a film set. I was fortunate enough to be there. I thought life was like that – with lights and cameras. From my father, what I’ve been able to extract or learn is a sense of tenacity and conviction. He’s been able to carry on for more than 50 years making films that are very close to his obsessions and heart and interests and fears. He has a thick skin. I hope if I’m stealing something from him it’s that. He’s a very stubborn old man.

On how his childhood was affected by cinema

My grandfather was also a producer. Everything that happened in my daily life had to do with films. Everything was tinted with films. It wasn’t the typical household. We had Luis Buñuel coming in and Carlos Fuentes and [Gabriel] García Márquez and all of these other figures that made it for a very interesting place to be. I did realize that my father did something weird. I remember as a kid in school, the typical thing was that you had to explain what you’re parents do. When my father was making films – this was back in the late 70s and early 80s – not a lot of films were being made in Mexico. I really stood out. I was fine with that. I actually thought it was pretty cool that my dad wasn’t a lawyer or a banker or something boring like that.

On 600 Miles finding its inspiration from a real-life weapons scandal

I used that as a starting point to tell a story about the two countries and the relationship between Mexico and the U.S. told through the eyes of two men – an American ATF agent operating under the instructions of that operation and a young Mexican kid who is starting to traffic guns from the U.S. to Mexico. What I wanted to talk about was a very complex relationship between two countries through the excuse of something that wasn’t explored in film before, which was gun trafficking. I had seen drug trafficking and illegal immigration, but not that component. It’s from there that characters and situations start to evolve. The plot is relatively straightforward, but I wanted the relationships and the environment not to be straightforward at all. I wanted it to be much more complex.

On whether or not he hopes his film adds to the conversation about gun laws

“I wanted to be informed. I met with people who were selling these guns, who are obviously very pro-gun. I didn’t want to simplify or make them villains.”

Completely. I lived in the U.S. for a long time. I experienced it. I am a dual citizen. In a way, the U.S. is also my country. I am completely in shock with the gun laws here. For me, it’s completely unacceptable that anyone can just walk into a gun store with a driver’s license and walk out with an arsenal. Nobody needs those weapons. There is no excuse about personal defense and the Second Amendment. The sad reality is no other country in the world has the amount of mass shootings as the U.S. has. It has to do with the access of very lethal firearms. While the film itself doesn’t have an agenda or politicize the issue or point fingers, I would feel very satisfied if it did start a conversation because there has to be that conversation.

On avoiding making a film with an agenda

I approached the subject matter with full objectivity. I did it as responsibly as I could. I went to Phoenix and Tucson and the border and educated myself as best as I could. I met with a lot of gun sales people, ATF agents, and Border Patrol agents. I wanted to be informed. I met with people who were selling these guns, who are obviously very pro-gun. I didn’t want to simplify or make them villains or anything like that. They are people who are doing their jobs, as they perceive it. The intention and approach that I had was one of objectivity. If you start to put your personal experiences on screen, it will inevitably simplify things or not show information that might go against your point or your politics. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to portray the issue as complex.

On President Obama’s recent executive order on firearms

“For me, it’s completely unacceptable that anyone can just walk into a gun store with a driver’s license and walk out with an arsenal.”

I fully support what President Obama is doing. For me, it’s a desperate situation. Anything is better than what exists right now. It’s so complicated to go and confront a gun lobby like the NRA and the huge economic interests that lay behind it. Look at the numbers. You can depersonalize it and just look at the facts and figures. It’s very terrifying about how many mass shooting happen in the U.S. It’s unprecedented.

On the fear-mongering of the gun lobby

It’s no coincidence that when President Obama was being elected, there was a huge spike in gun sales because of that fear mongering and the preoccupation of the gun-holding community that he was going to ban certain kinds of firearms. There is a correlation between the perceived politics or the perceived measures that people think might be taken and the appetite for these guns. The number of weapons being sold is insane. There is a discourse by the right to promote that fear.

On open carry laws

When I was in Arizona shooting [600 Miles], I was flipping out seeing these women in the supermarket carrying their two pistols in their holsters. It’s mind blowing. For me, it’s scary. I come from a family where my grandfather was a hunter. He had a lot of firearms for hunting – shotguns and rifles. He was a big gun lover. My father was, too, in a way. So, I’ve been around guns. It’s not like I see a gun and run the other direction. However, there is a rational and irrational way of owning guns. Right now, to have people walking around at supermarkets or dropping their kids off at school with a gun in their belt, it just seems so backwards. This country is going back 150 years to the Wild West. There is no reason to have that. The right says if everyone had a firearm there would be no mass shootings because people would take down the shooter. What type of mentality is that?

On casting Tim Roth

It was very organic to the story. We didn’t just think it would be a cool idea. It was dramatically relevant. It’s a story that talks about the two countries. We needed an English-speaking actor. We were fortunate enough to have Tim Roth come on board. He’s an actor I admire greatly. He’s worked with some of the most important directors in the world. He came in with full interest and full ability and with the most incredible attitude. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have been directing my first film and have an actor like him on board. Paired with [actor] Kristyan Ferrer, who is his co-lead, they were fantastic in my mind.