Kathryn Bigelow began her career as an art student in San Francisco and later New York where she hung around with various conceptual artists until eventually being persuaded by Andy Warhol to reach a wider audience by going into film. Her first feature film ‘The Loveless’ was an oddball biker movie in which a young Willem Dafoe played lead. But her breakthrough came in the form of 1980's surfer/crime cult classic Point Break. However the 2000's are arguably her golden days. In 2010 Bigelow became the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director for her portrayal of war addicted bomb disposal expert in The Hurt Locker. The Hurt Locker was one of the first films to tackle the reality of the Iraq war. This life-changing award gave Kathryn a platform that she then used to speak out about latent sexism within the industry. She continued to trail blaze with Zero Dark Thirty garnering more academy nominations and winning the New York Critics circle award to become the only female director to win twice. Continuing the war theme the film dramatized the decade long manhunt that led up to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. Both films deal with the realities of warfare and the murky moral territory that wars create.
It is easy to see how Bigelow became Executive Producer of Cartel Land. Her own films consistently deal with moral conundrums and wars whether literal or internalised. Cartel Land is undeniably about a war, albeit a guerrilla one. It follows the lives of two vigilante group leaders, ‘El Doctor’ Jose Mireles and Tim ‘Nailer’ Foley either side of the Mexican border as they fight to take back their land from the control of the murderous cartels. At first the film appears to be a simple case of good verses evil but as we dig deeper into the world of the Cartel these distinctions become increasingly blurred. Heineman’s unprecedented access to all sides of the conflict and fearless direction succeeds in humanising and illuminating a world that most of us are totally oblivious to. This alongside of breath-taking cinematography has not only garned him Best Director and Cinematography at Sundance but has also allowed him to create a documentary that is beautiful and disturbing in equal measure.