How many films does it take to make a film festival? This is a question that might naturally gravitate to the "how many X does it take to screw in a lightbulb?" type of lampoon. But the folks at Columbia University, who had to shelve their series last year (oriented around "the Jewish experience in film noir"), have thrown down the gauntlet by programming a grand total of three films in their upcoming Kit Noir series, which will run from March 11-21.
The series, as you'll see, is called "Border Incidents: The US-Mexico Border in Film Noir." The three films are the ones all seasoned noiristas will already know: BORDER INCIDENT, WHERE DANGER LIVES, and TOUCH OF EVIL.
Of course, there are a number of other films that could have been added to such a series if the concept of the "border" would be expanded to include other forms of cultural overlap between the USA and Mexico. These might take us outside the specific realm of noir, but the historical background can only help show us how the previously developed concepts evident in other film genres influenced what we see in "border noirs."
Several other noirs containing some additional resonance with Mexico, its crossover culture in the US and the reception of Americans who find themselves south of the border could easily be added to this "abridged" (their term) screening schedule. Two of those titles are also extremely well known: RIDE THE PINK HORSE and THE BIG STEAL. (The comedy elements that surface in the latter film should not dissuade us from still seeing it as revelatory concerning the character of the indigenous folk who appear in it, or for how they view the attitudes of the Americans with whom they interact.)
Given that the programmers want to somehow tie the festival to current issues related to the U.S.-Mexico border, it seems only appropriate that they widen the time frame to show how these issues have evolved over time. The best way for them to have done so would have been to solicit the appearance of an academic who has studied the issue of the border and written a book about how it has been presented in film, both in American and Mexican cinema. Her name: Camilla Fojas. Her book: BORDER BANDITS: Hollywood on the Southern Frontier (University of Texas Press, 2008).
A perusal of her book will almost certainly make one conclude that Fojas has a great deal to say that would be of interest to those interested in the subject matter--and she could easily recommend additional, later films that would be pertinent to a fuller exploration of the topic.
There is still more than a month for the organizers of the Kit Noir Festival to supplement what they themselves acknowledge as an "abridged" schedule by inviting Professor Fojas to join the panel already assembled to discuss this topic. We will do what Bacall instructs Bogie to do in DARK PASSAGE: "Hold your breath, and cross your fingers."