The Short Life of José Antonio Gutierrez

Tender documentary about U.S. Marine is a microcosm of America

Movies Reviews Heidi Specogna
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The Short Life of José Antonio Gutierrez

Director/Writer: Heidi Specogna
Cinematography: Rainer Hoffmann
Starring: Marc Montez, Patrick Atkinson, Fabian Girón, Veronica Morales
Studio/Running Time: Atopia, 90 mins.

Heidi Specogna’s wonderful documentary tells the story of how the first American soldier killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom found his way from the slums of Guatemala to a battlefield in the Middle East, and although she has no footage of most of his journey, she fills the gaps by showing us people in similar straits. As she glides artfully, almost imperceptibly between the two scopes, they cross-pollinate, and the effect is illuminating and profound.

This movie is not about the Iraq war. It is, to some degree, about immigration and homelessness and determination. But, mostly, it’s about a young man named José Antonio Gutierrez who was ambitious and loved, who was brought down before his potential was realized, and who lived his short life in the blind spot of a socioeconomic system that functions—if we can say that it functions—because of his sacrifice. With honesty and respect, Specogna has made neither a shallow tribute nor a polemic. She’s made a great film about America.