In 2008, when the Mexican government sent an army to the rugged border region, ostensibly to fight drug trafficking, Guadalupe Distrito Bravo had a population of 17,000 people. Today there are only 1,000 people living there. Mexican director Marcela Arteaga’s El guardián de la memoria (The Guardian of Memory) attempts to account for that terrifying statistic. Letting locals from Juarez and Chihuahua tearfully recount the stories of their murdered or disappeared children, parents and siblings, this powerful documentary stands as a chronicle of a devastating history that speaks to the human cost of the War on Drugs that has ravaged many regions of Mexico’s countryside.

With stunning and near-poetic visuals courtesy of DP Axel Pedraza El guardián de la memoria follows Tatiana Huezo’s Tempestad in recognizing that painful localized histories need not be told with the detached lens of journalistic coverage but with the empathetic eye of a visual storyteller. Thus, sweeping vistas of the Juárez region, crackling images of clotheslines on fire and drone shots of inhospitable landscapes play host to first-person testimonials as well as to an ongoing conversation with a Texas-based lawyer who argues that asylum-seekers from the area must be considered victims of a genocide. In an attempt to curtail drug trafficking violence, what these locals have experienced is a truly harrowing example of state-sanctioned violence in the interest of fighting “organized crime.”

“Organized crime doesn’t exist,” we’re told in the film’s trailer. “It doesn’t exist without the complicity of the state at a local, state, and federal level. It’s an authorized crime.” Openly telling the story of the victims of such a crime — those thousands who are no longer in Guadalupe Distrito Bravo — El guardián de la memoria promises to be a necessary, if uncomfortable, chronicle of an ongoing Mexican tragedy. Take a look at the full trailer below.

El guardián de la memoria had its US premiere at the Margaret Mead Film Festival in New York.