Mechanic by Day, Vigilante by Night


El Metido (The Meddler) follows German Cabrera—a mechanic by day, vigilante with a video camera by night—as he speeds through the streets of Guatemala City, documenting violent crime.

In 2013, when production for El Metido began, 2100 people were murdered in Guatemala City, but only about 42 murderers were prosecuted. By 2019, those statistics had improved a little (1400 murders), however, Guatemala still teeters on failed state status, and Cabrera has taken it upon himself to document and broadcast what he sees in a bid to expose the failure of the government to protect its constituents. For five years, director Alex Roberts and co-director Daniel LeClair rode along with Cabrera to crime scene after gruesome crime scene to create El Metido: a portrait of a man obsessed with saving his city.

I guess my first question should be why is Guatemala the way it is with the corruption and violence? Is there a short answer to that?

Daniel: Well, I do know that the United Nations came out a few years ago and said Guatemala was the most violent country on the planet. But why? That’s hard to say. [America’s] foreign policy toward the region wasn’t great over the last hundred years, and we’ve supported people who were corrupt… I think your average Guatemalan isn’t corrupt at all, but certainly, there are people in power that are.

Alex: I think a lot of the problems that occur in the city relate to poverty and this kind of acceptance of violence and extortion and those kinds of things. When German talks about it, poverty and desperation come up a lot, and corruption comes out of that. But the city is vastly different from the rest of the country. The rest of Guatemala is really beautiful.

You started production in 2013, is that right?

Alex: Yeah, November of 2013 and then wrapped in 2018; that was our last trip and the one where I shot drone footage and all that stuff. So, we were cutting it over that seven-year period and figuring out what the story was, how we were going to tell it. In the end, we decided to have a sort of Taxi Driver approach; we wanted the audience to feel like they were in the car with German to give a sort of claustrophobic view of his life.

Something I found interesting was the way at the start, German is very much a hero, but then somewhere along the way I found myself wondering if he was a hero at all.

Alex: Right, right.

Stop me if I’m wrong, but when he gets his TV show it seems as though he’s no longer shining a light on the violence and corruption—he’s profiting from it by exploiting poor people. But then at the end he sort of seems like a hero again, you forgive him a little because he is immersed in this dark world and he is as much a product of that as anyone else.

Alex: Absolutely. That’s exactly what we wanted to create. And I’ll let Dan talk more about German’s character, but I will say that we really did want to show the light and shade of this guy, and over that period of time we were editing we had the choice to either go full hero or do we make him out to be a menace? Because the spectrum of his qualities covers all those things. In the end, we did both, and I think we portrayed him as honestly as we could.

Daniel: Going into this, German wanted us to show everything. This is a guy who wanted to make sure it was all open. He would never tell you not to shoot something or include something in the movie, and in fact, some of the darker moments that didn’t make it in, he felt like, well, ‘Why didn’t you put that in there?’ So, he was a completely open book on this. I met German in 2003—2004, well before we started [the documentary] and that’s exactly what it’s like being with him: there are these ups and downs… Like the scene where he’s chasing that woman down the street, that was really difficult because my instinct was to tell him, ‘Hey, you gotta stop now,’ y’know? But at the same time, that’s what it’s like to be around him…

That’s the story.

Daniel: Right, you have to take the good with the bad, and that’s the emotional roller coaster of rolling with him.

Alex: Yeah, we showed him an edit where we cut the scene with him chasing the woman…

She’s wielding a metal pole or something, right?

Alex: Yeah, and we removed that because when we showed it to some people that really turned them off the character, but when showed him, he goes, ‘Where’s that scene?’ And that’s when we realised we had to show everything.

Every facet of his personality.

Daniel: Yeah.

I have to say, he’s difficult to like.

Alex: He’s pretty polarising. But like you said, he’s this crusader who is corrupted by his environment.

Was German concerned about the exposure? I guess he wasn’t—everyone seemed to know who he was guy from The Night Watcher on TV… He’s exposing gang violence and crime, corruption… How does he stay out of harm’s way?

Daniel: He doesn’t stay out of harm’s way—he runs into harm’s way. And he’s not worried about people knowing who he is…

So, what’s stopping the gangs from tracking him down and killing him?

Daniel: He’s been threatened. They dumped a dismembered body in front of his house, you know, they were sending us a message: we know where you live and this is what’s going to happen to you if you keep going.

And yet he keeps going. How is he alive?

Daniel: Well, he knows when it’s time to take off, and he’ll go to the south for six months or something, and then he’ll come back.

Right. And what about you guys? Based on the driving I saw in the film, you must’ve feared for your life every day.

Daniel: I know (laughs)

I mean, holy fuck, slow down, Gran Turismo! I would never get in a car with that man, let alone go to those neighbourhoods and record these bloody crime scenes. Did you guys ever get used to living on that razor’s edge with him?

Daniel: Yeah, there were definitely moments where you were like, ‘Ok, this is the end,’ but when you’re sitting next to him in that car and you’re going that fast—and going the wrong way on a one-way street with people jumping out of the way—there’s nothing you can do to stop it or slow it down. You pretty much just have to sit in there and wait. So, there were a few nerve-wracking moments, but at the same time, you do develop quite a bit of trust because we’ve gotten through so many things by the skin of our teeth—you begin to feel like, ‘Wow, man, this guy is invincible!’ And you depend on him and when you’re going into these situations, you just assume that he can get you out.

Alex: I should mention that Daniel, being a photojournalist who has worked all around Central America, a lot of the access he got, before making the documentary, was through German, right, Dan?

Daniel: Absolutely, yeah, he got me in.

Alex: So, Daniel had developed a bit of a thick skin before shooting the documentary.

Daniel: Yeah, by the time we started making the movie, I’d known German for ten years and had seen things… things I couldn’t describe.

Alex: Things we couldn’t put in the movie, for sure.

Daniel: Oh, yeah, things that would never have made it into the movie.

What about you, Alex, was this your first experience with this level of, I guess, horror?

Alex: Yeah. I’m actually a comedy director. I make TV commercials in Australia in New Zealand and they’re all comedic, so making this film was a huge departure. But I only really experienced [German’s world]—met him and rode in the car—on the last trip, and it was really important that I did that for the fear factor and all that stuff… I wouldn’t have felt like I really belonged to the film if I hadn’t experienced that. Prior to that, I was watching all this stuff come in, which was good because I was experiencing it as a passenger, as the audience would. So that was helpful in an editorial sense. But I became desensitized to it over the years of editing, and I kind of understand how people there would become desensitized to the violence by the way it’s portrayed in the media there.

Right, so seeing gory stuff in the press every day just makes it normal.

Alex: Yeah, and that’s the flaw of the media there. It’s good to expose these things so that they don’t go under the radar, but at the same time, extreme violence becomes normal.

So, I guess for you, Daniel, you’re very much used to the adrenalin spikes that come with this kind of stuff, but for you, Alex, it must’ve been…

Alex: It was hectic. I got off the plane and [German] picked me up in the car with the lights and everything.

It’s souped-up like a cop car, right?

Alex: It’s like the fucking Bat Mobile. So, it was 11:30 PM, he picks me up at the airport and we go straight to a murder scene; we don’t even go by the hotel to drop my bags off—straight to a crime scene, and I see the first dead body I’ve ever seen.

Jesus.

Alex: Then he gives me the keys and says, ‘Park it round the back,’ and suddenly I’m driving the fucking car. It was baptism by fire.

Daniel: It really was (laughs).

El Metido is in cinemas June 10. For details go to elmetidomovie.com

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