Under the Shadow of the Wall

This video essay focuses on the landscapes of the Sonoran Desert—and the project of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico—as a way of investigating the manner in which something as seemingly generic as a wall can take on particular political and affective forms. This short provocation explores the ways that violent and distasteful objects create, and subsequently come to characterize, malevolent spectacles.

  • Taylor Genovese
  • Taylor Genovese
    Director of Photography
  • Taylor Genovese
  • Taylor Genovese
  • Dick Powis
    Original Score
  • Taylor Genovese
  • Dick Powis
  • Laiken Jordahl
    Key Cast
    "Himself (voice)"
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Runtime:
    9 minutes 29 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    January 10, 2022
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    Mexico, United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Golden State Film Festival
    Los Angeles, California
    United States
    March 1, 2022
    World Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Arizona International Film Festival
    Tucson, Arizona
    United States
    April 27, 2022
    Official Selection
  • FLICKFAIR Film Festival
    May 2, 2022
    Official Selection
  • Cannes Independent Film Festival
    May 17, 2022
    Official Selection
  • Ischia Global Film Festival
    July 16, 2022
    Official Selection
  • Tolpuddle Radical Film Festival
    Tolpuddle, Dorset
    United Kingdom
    July 16, 2022
    Finalist, Small Axe Radical Short Film Awards
  • Hudson Valley Film Festival
    Warwick, New York
    United States
    August 16, 2022
    Official Selection
  • Festival Internacional de Cinema Socioambiental
    Nova Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro
    October 14, 2022
    Official Selection
  • Grand OFF Festival
    December 2, 2022
    Nominee, Best Documentary
  • ProToPost Film Festival
    February 22, 2023
    Winner, Best Short Documentary
  • Ethnografilm
    April 6, 2023
    Official Selection
Director Biography - Taylor Genovese

Taylor Genovese is an anthropologist and artist who works in film, video, photography, and sound. Genovese is currently completing his Ph.D. at Arizona State University, where he is part of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict. He lives and works in the Hudson Valley, New York.

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Director Statement

My sub-compact car rattled and knocked as it bounced along a dirt road that snaked its way through the desert near Douglas, Arizona. Through my passenger-side window, I could start to see the recently installed, massive copper-colored border wall peeking out from the space between the hills of this rolling landscape dotted with ancient rock, small cacti, twiggy trees, and dry brush. As I got closer to the San Bernardino Wildlife Refuge, I pulled my car off the road and squeezed it into a small clearing between two spindly mesquite trees and stepped out into the mild but dry winter air.

About 100 yards ahead of me was a tightly packed series of vertical steel beams that reached twenty feet up toward the clear sky and stretched off horizontally in either direction. I could hear quails gently cooing in the creosote bushes next to me and in the distance, the gentle drone and slight glimmer of semi-trucks could be seen and heard as they slowly crawled across the Carretera Federal 2 that wound its way along the border of Mexico and the United States. Other than that, it was quiet; dead quiet.

I began to cautiously walk towards the wall, continually checking over my shoulder for any sign of workers or Border Patrol agents. I felt like I was trespassing—which I probably was—but there were no posted signs or obstructions other than the massive wall itself. I glimpsed through the narrow bars at the Mexican side and the landscape looked the same—the same dirt, the same rocks, the same mountains, and, as the details retreated into smudgy infinity, the same gradient of dull browns and greens so indicative of the Sonoran Desert.

This was my first experience interacting with the border wall—a grotesque structure that continues to stand at our southern border. I had initially only wanted to put together a photo essay that would document this artifact at the tail-end of the Trump era, but after setting foot in the scrub brush of the Arizona borderlands, I immediately intuited that a film must accompany my photographs. There’s something visceral, raw, and immediate about a film that I knew would be lacking in my accompanying photography.

In a way, this film exists as my bittersweet goodbye to the Sonoran Desert—a unique and naturally gorgeous environment that I have witnessed being slowly ground up and disemboweled by real estate developers, mining corporations, and energy executives over the course of my thirty-six years here. In the summer of 2022, my family and I will pack up our things and return to New York, leaving behind the place where I was born and grew up. In many inescapable ways, I will always be a desert rat, but this is not the same place I trekked through as a child. It isn’t the same magnificent desolation that I explored as a teenager. It isn’t the setting of raw vivacity I would, as an adult, frequently pitch a tent inside of and just stand in awe.

But it could be.

As my mentor David Graeber used to say: “The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently.”