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Real-life violence inspires Mexico's 'narco movies'

By Rafael Romo, Senior Latin American Affairs Editor
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Narco films gain popularity in Mexico
  • The notorious drug violence in Mexico is increasingly reflected in "narco movies"
  • Filmmakers say the movies are less violent than real life
  • "Narco movies" make about $12 million a year, but that doesn't include black market sales

(CNN) -- It's a scene that Mexicans have become accustomed to: Drug lords, hit men and organized crime bosses are paraded in front of the cameras for the whole world to see on a weekly and sometimes daily basis.

That notorious drug world and violence is now showing up on the big and small screen in a new genre called "narco movies."

Titles such as "The Big Bazooka Shot," "The Sinaloa Jackals," "Land of Blood" and "Narcos and Dogs" are among the most popular movies depicting the inside life of drug cartels and gangs.

Filmmakers say their screenplays are based on current events but pale in comparison to reality -- the ongoing armed conflict among rival drug cartels and the Mexican government has left as many as 40,000 dead in the last four years. Torture, including savage beatings and executions by decapitation, have become common news as rival cartels fight turf wars.

Juan Manuel Romero is a filmmaker who specializes in narco movies. He says that unlike Hollywood films, his movies are not an exaggeration of what happens.

"We are not even close to reflecting reality," Romero says. "You can actually call our movies 'soft' because we don't show as much blood and killings. We just try to give people what they want."

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In one movie, "Gente de Alto Poder" (or "High-Powered People"), shootouts between rival drug cartels fill the screen. Dialogue includes lines such as, "We can't avoid the executions that catch the media's attention and put pressure on authorities."

This reality-based genre is proving popular. Seven movie production houses in Mexico are dedicated to "narco movies." Filmmakers say these movies make about $12 million a year -- but that's not including the money made by the vast amount of DVDs sold in the underground market.

"Narco movies" are also finding popularity in the United States. Recent Mexican immigrants are able to buy the movies available on DVD at stores that cater to the Mexican community in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.

The gang and drug violence may be proving popular on the big and small screens, but in reality, many Mexicans are demanding changes.

The high number of drug-related executions has made Mexican President Felipe Calderon's law enforcement approach to drug violence unpopular with an increasing number of Mexicans.

And many are calling for a new strategy by Mexico including poet Javier Sicilia. His son was kidnapped and murdered in March. In a meeting with Calderon last month, Sicilia asked for a moment of silence for the victims of what he called "an atrocious and senseless war."

Meanwhile, filmmakers say they make sure their screenplays don't rub any of the cartels the wrong way. It's a kind of self-censorship that keeps them safe.

"We deal with these issues in the best way possible. We're not afraid that they're going to come after us because we behave. We do things the best we can and so far we haven't been threatened by anybody," Romero says.

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