Charlie Minn is an American director perhaps best known for his documentary on the Las Cruces bowling alley massacre, entitled A Nightmare in Las Cruces (2011). He has also directed the films 43 (2015), Mexico’s Bravest Man (2016) and 77 Minutes (2016).
Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
I’ve been making documentaries since 2010. I’ve made 25 of them. I don’t suggest anybody to try to make three movies a year. It’s bad for your health but I have a passion for what I do.
How did you become a filmmaker?
I’ve been fired more than Al Capone’s gun when I was working on the news. I had my own style and news directors are the most boring people in the world, that’s why they get fired also. They didn’t like my radical style so they fired me before they got fired for poor ratings. I then turned my focus into filmmaking. It was the best decision of my life.
As an activist myself in my normal life, one of the things I appreciate about your films is that rather than adopting a phony “neutrality”, you openly take a stand and demand that wrongdoers be brought to justice. What are your thoughts on the theme of “film-making as activism” ?
Filmmaking is a powerful creative expression. People flock to the movies. In my case, I am here to inform, educate and raise awareness. I am not here to entertain, but rather to inform. Being an informant is another way of being an activist. You can’t solve a problem unless you talk about it. You can talk about something if you’re not informed.
Take us through your process of creating a film. How do you research the topic?
The planning part is beyond critical. You have to know which elements you need. Who to interview, how to film it and what video you need. You have to go four for four, Three out of four won’t cut it. In terms of research, I just simply throw myself into the topic, almost become obsessed with it. Meet people connected to the topic, travel to the city, and watch every single video and read every article possible. In a nutshell, you work your ass off.
A recurring theme in your films is the effect of traumatic events on human communities. What about this theme intrigues you?
Reality intrigues me, we are all human. We all fall under human conditions, no matter the race, religion, nationality, etc. We all get hungry, need our sleep and put our pants on one leg at a time. People normally don’t want to go outside their comfort zone, but it is reality and the hardships that come our way can’t be ignored. My films are about violence and humanity. I love to study the latter.
Your best-known film so far is most likely A Nightmare in Las Cruces (2011). What is the film about? How did you end up making it?
I knew about the case in 1990 when I watched Unsolved Mysteries on NBC. It’s a national show so it carries a lot of reach.
The story examines the largest unsolved shooting in the USA today. Seven people were shot in the head inside a bowling alley, four of them were children. It’s heartbreaking. It needs to be solved. I don’t know if it ever will be.
What are your own thoughts as to the perpetrators of the bowling alley massacre ? Where did these two killers come from? Why did they carry out these exceptionally brutal killings?
These two criminals were animals, period. A two-year old baby was shot point blank in the forehead. Who does that? The killers may have come from Mexico, just 45 minutes from the scene of the murders. I believe this was drug retribution, perhaps a horrific message to the owner of the bowling alley. I can’t prove this, but everything points to that.
Your film 43 (2016) is about a group of Mexican students who were abducted and have not been seen since. What was the process of making this film like? Without spoiling anything for the viewers, do you think you were able to solve the mystery?
43 was a tricky film to construct because I had never been to Guerrero, the most dangerous state in Mexico. I was so used to filming in Juarez, so going outside of there was a bit awkward. One must understand Mexico and it’s culture. Every state is different in its own way, like every state in the USA has its own karma. When I say Guerrero is dangerous I am talking even to the point of the hotel you’re staying at. Your head must be on a swivel or it may be laying on the ground. Putting things together was harder since I was truly on foreign ground. I am at the total mercy of officials who I have never met or come across. Solving the mystery isn’t my job, that’s up to law enforcement officials. I am simply here to inform, educate and raise awareness through my film, now if that leads to solving a mystery, I guess I got more than what I set out to do.
You’ve made other films about Mexico. What about the country intrigues you?
The injustice is so stunning. These innocent people need a voice. Who is speaking for them? The Mexican people are some of the most humble people I have ever met. Having shot ten films there, the country has a special place in my heart. I will continue to represent these poor victims who didn’t deserve this wave of violence. Tijuana today averages almost five murders a day. Who even knows about that? Better yet, does anybody even care about that? This is why I do what I do. To create that necessary awareness.
Do you see a future where the violence in Mexico would end and the people in the killing zones could go on with their lives?
Not without a well-crafted revolution. I am afraid the corruption is way too spread out. The violence has become endemic.
Violence will never end as long as there is poverty, that goes for the world, not just Mexico. The biggest problem in Mexico is not the violence, it’s the lack of jobs. The lack of jobs leads to poverty, which leads to violence. So it’s social decay and the poor people in Mexico are taken advantage of. It’s like a disease, a virus with no end. Just an evil cycle. 2017 will be the most violent in terms of murders for the country of Mexico. How tragic.
You’re from El Paso, Texas, the hometown of serial killer Richard Ramirez (aka the Night Stalker). Ever thought about making a documentary about him?
Yes I have, would’ve been easier had he been alive. People in El Paso have asked me about it. He’s a household name here for all the wrong reasons.
As mentioned above, the topics of your films are often quite grim. Do you ever experience nightmares as a result of covering these topics in your films? Do these topics ever take a toll on your personal happiness and mental well-being?
You would think it would, but it hasn’t. I am hardly a victim, I didn’t get shot. I am the filmmaker, and nothing else. It does take a mental toll, but not because of the stories, but due to the overwhelming stress of making the film.
Do you have a topic/event you would like to make a film about? A kind of “dream fllm”, if you will?
Believe it or not, Richard Ramirez.
What are you working on at the moment?
The Las Vegas mass shooting. The most overlooked angle is why it took police ten minutes to get to the killers room after the security guard who got shot reported that shots had been fired in that exact room just moments into the rampage. The mass shootings should’ve been interrupted just three minutes in.
Where can people keep up with your work? Where can they get / watch your films?
Amazon Prime. Or you can order films on www.charlieminn.com
And finally, my regular questions to all my interviewees:
Your top 3 films ?
Mexico’s Bravest Man, The Deer Hunter and Raging Bull.
Your top 3 books ?
I am not a books guy. I don’t have any patience, I read a ton of articles, I am an article guy.