Why does someone become a gang member?

"La Vida Loca - The Passage of Death": Die for the 18th

Filmmaker Christian Poveda accompanied members of the youth gang Mara 18 for months and drew an oppressive portrait of a youth without a future. "La Vida Loca", now on DVD, cost him his life.

Horror is often what you cannot see. On September 2, 2009, director Christian Poveda was in his car in Tonacatepeque north of San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, when someone shot him four times in the head. A real execution. The police believe it was someone from a youth gang. Perhaps even from the gang with which Poveda shot his documentary "La Vida Loca" for months, and accompanied the members to the court and very often to the cemetery. He had seen their struggles, their courage, their fear, their failure. But apparently underestimated the imminent danger he himself was in.

Poveda wanted to make a sequel to "La Vida Loca", the film in which you don't see your own death. The film that stands in the shadow of the death of its director. As if it wasn't shattering enough. Because it shows a lot: a life between blind hatred, hopelessness and death. A lot of death.

Failure to rehabilitate

"La Vida Loca", translated "The crazy life", the motto of the gang, begins with a funeral. There will be a total of five trips to the cemetery, they all follow a ritual: the evocation of faith goes hand in hand with the evocation of one's own community. "The 18 will live forever", pray the young people together and stretch their hands in the air to greet the gang. They get no names, no voice from off-screen explains who "El Moreno" is and "Nino" or what their real name is. "Everyone who works here has only one name: Den der Gang," says the boss of a bakery, a rehabilitation project that is doomed to failure. Without a salary, nothing keeps gang members off the street. "I don't care what you're doing out there," says the initiator of the project. He is later arrested himself on suspicion of murder. It is not clear where the money from the sale of the baked goods is going.

"How do you pay your bills?" a doctor asks a young woman with only one eye. "I'm helping someone sell," she replies. The 25-year-old wants to have a prosthesis made, but the projectile is still in the eye socket. After the operation, she would like to give it to her mother as a present. She has four children herself. There is no boyfriend or husband in her life. The youth gang lives in a world without fathers. Replacing a missing family is the gang's strength: "Brotherhood must be the gang's foremost virtue," says one member. "If you have nothing, your brother has nothing."

Tattooed body

A community with lifelong battle paint. Men and young women alike have had the numbers "18" tattooed on their arms, legs, necklines, on the forehead or even all over their face. Drawn like this, there is nowhere to hide, especially not from the archenemy, the rival Mara Salvatrucha. The 18 on the face is the ultimate sign of courage and belonging to the gang. "You are not tattooed. That is good," said a pastor in a reformatory to one of the young people. He might as well say: Unlike the others, you still have a chance.

There is a lot of tattoos in the substandard houses that are full of barred bars in the Gang district, a miserable suburb of San Salvador. And weed. Their actual business, drug trafficking, prostitution, theft and extortion of protection money, is only marginally shown in the film: Once the young men cut and pack white powder blocks, another time the police pick up the young women. They then sit on the loading area next to a mountain of televisions and video recorders.

"Welcome to the best gang in the world"

When three shots ring out from off, the poveda's signal for death. Then you watch as a man who had been shot is packed in a black plastic sack and heaved onto the back of a car. There's a good reason the movie is 16+. "The bastard left me," shouts a young woman, beside herself with grief. But members keep coming. A small brawl serves them as an initiation rite and then they say: "Welcome to the best gang in the world".

Poverty and civil war

El Salvador has one of the highest crime rates in the world. A civil war raged there from 1980 to 1991. The number of victims is estimated at 70,000, most of them civilians.

The Mara 18 was founded in the USA and named after 18th Street in Los Angeles. The Mara Salvatrucha was also founded in Los Angeles. With the deportation of many young people who had committed criminal offenses from the USA to their home countries, they then imported the gangs into the Central American environment of poverty and civil war.

The DVD "La Vida Loca - the corridor of death" was released on May 6th. The music for Christian Poveda's film, including the title track "La Vida Loca", comes from Sebastian Rocca

The DVD at Amazon