The documentary Club Frontera features a story about the rise of a soccer team and the uniting and showcasing of a city that many have overlooked as unsafe and treacherous. To Americans the border town of Tijuana, which lies just a few miles from San Diego, is an unknown landscape that has been riveted with bad publicity concerning drug cartels, killings, and corruption. What they do not know is that Tijuana has a rich history and culture, one that is deeply rooted in its Mexican origins, where family is the center focus of all, and one where people embrace their heritage and forefathers. Just one look at the national landmarks and the solidarity that is taught in each classroom and it is obvious that Tijuana is much more than the bad press that has haunted it over the years.
Director Chris Cashman was able to evolve and tell a story about Tijuana that showcased all the positive aspects of the city, while at the same time still discussing the issues that have plagued it. The film is about the Tijuana soccer league Xoloitzcuintles (Xolos) and their rise to becoming champions in 2011 and their promotion to the Mexican Premier League (Liga MX). At first they were just a budding team that no one believed in, every team that Tijuana had ever built, came and went in a flash because there were never owners who truly cared about making it a number one team. This all changed when the team took ownership by Jorge Hank Rhon and then handed the reigns over to his son Jorge Alberto Hank, who took it upon himself to ensure that the team would reach number one status.
Hank hired friends he trusted to help him run the club such as Gog Murguia Fernandez as the Vice President, and built a team with players that embodied the border town spirit. Many of the players have been and still are Mexican-Americans, people who were born in the United States, but whose parents or family were born in Mexico. He did this on purpose, so that people who would come to see the team play would see people like themselves, which is a rarity in any case and understood the importance of this fact. If people can relate to the players, then he knew they would become even more invested in the team. They also built the team a proper stadium in 2007, Estadio Caliente, one that would hold over 33 thousand spectators.
At the same time, the violence in Tijuana from the drug cartels was running rampant and people were feeling disillusioned with the city, tourists stopped crossing over and the town was feeling less and less like home to many people. With all the factors involved in making this team and building it up from ground zero, there was a sort of feeling in the air that Tijuana wanted to and was hungry to become soccer champions. The city and its’ people needed something to pick them up more than anything else.
In the film, we see how the team goes from nothing to champions in 2012. Highlighted against film of them playing and team members discussing how they felt with each win, we get to hear stories from fans and what this championship meant to them. The streets in Tijuana with each win go crazy, but in each celebration there is never any violence, and never any disdain or fights against people who are not rooting for the home team, something we see happen with American teams all the time.
Their victory and ascension into the Primera Division Team in Mexico sealed them into the history books and have remained in that league ever since. All of their wins brought Tijuana and San Diego even closer than before and has helped in uniting the border town and making it a more desirable place to visit.
One of the aspects of the film that I enjoyed was how it blended footage from the 50’s and 60’s which captured how Tijuana used to look, against images of today. I also liked many of the side stories that were featured in the film, such as the one about Mode, an artist who does many banners and murals for Xolos fans. His work has garnered so much attention that he was invited to help paint a huge mural on the Tijuana river banks. His art work is beautiful and he showcased the art and beauty that lies south of the border. I also liked hearing about the Xolos fan club called Los Masacres (The Massacres) and how they put so much time and energy into bringing up the crowds at the games and how they have always stayed so loyal to their team.
It was obvious that this movie was a labor of love, in fact it took three years to put together. The juxtaposition of the history of Tijuana, both good and bad, the soccer team players, and the fans, all combined, made for a film that told a wonderful tale and highlighted the beauty of the city and its people. The film is in the process of possibly being distributed in Tijuana and hopefully to Netflix, where it can be indulged by everyone around the world. This was a wonderful film and I hope that it will soon be able to be seen by more audiences.
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