An unassuming group of young "angels" report for service wearing modest street clothes similar to that of their peers from Juarez, Mexico. Soon, however, they'll ditch their humble garb for elaborate DIY costumes, transforming from everyday teens and pre-teens to remarkable fearless champions of peace.
Unlike a great deal of the city's people, the group of 11 to 19-year-old boys and girls isn't affiliated with a drug cartel or on assignment from an organized crime kingpin.
These few "Messenger Angels," as the New York Times reported in 2011, are doing what many Juarenses have wanted to do for a long time; They're resisting the drug trade and speaking out against the senseless violence that makes Juarez one of the world's most dangerous cities.
"It started a few years ago," says Miami-based documentary filmmaker Joey Daoud. "All the supplies are either donated or found. Things like sheets that they turn into the robes, cardboard, feathers from pillows for the wings, and oil-based paint--which I'm sure is not healthy at all--and glitter to cover their face."
Daoud is co-producer and second shooter on Angels at War, an upcoming documentary about the young Juarez angels who are taking a bold stance against Mexico's on-going drug war. Together with New York-based director Jessica LaRusso and photojournalist Katie Orlinsky, the award-wining filmmaker spent 10 days last month capturing the church group's efforts to curb violence, corruption, sex trafficking and a myriad of other issues affecting the country's 113 million citizens.
"Some of them have had parents that have died in the drug war," Daoud says. "Some of them have parents who may have been affiliated cartels, then stopped and quit. But pretty much all of them know someone who has been killed."
Though crime in Juarez has dropped dramatically since it reaching its highest point in 2010, when 3,115 homicides were reported, according the Washington Post, the city's still struggling to end the bloodshed.
"All the angels come from the same church," he says. "They've traveled to other cities in Mexico and other 'angel' groups have popped up, duplicating what they're doing."
Drug cartels have had no choice but to accept, even embrace, the young demonstrators. And in at least once instance, Daoud recalls a cartel leader's strict orders to his crew.
"The leader of the cartel told his men to watch out for [the angels]," he says, "and make sure that no one messes with them."
The police, on the other hand, are not always as cooperative.
"There was one time when the police in Juarez got pretty aggressive with them and arrested an older member of the church group that was there with them," says Orlinsky, Angels at War's cinematographer. "That was very scary for them... It's scary for anyone, but on top of that, they're kids."
Of the three-person team of filmmakers, Orlinsky has spent the most time in Juarez, witnessing firsthand the rise and subsequent decline of violence in the city. She arrived there in the late 2000s and photographed the angels for the first time in 2011 while on assignment for the New York Times.
"I was like, whoa, what is happening?" she recalls. "I'd been working in Juarez for almost two years at that point, and that story just came out of nowhere in terms that we'd heard about and got there. It just so happened that they'd be doing their angel thing that evening and we watched them get ready and it was just really special."
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Angels at War director Jessia LaRusso was so moved by
Orlinsky's photo, that it ultimately became the inspiration behind the film. She reached out about after it ran in the Times and started working together shortly thereafter.
Last month, the crew completed principal photography on the documentary. They've begun working on the editing process and hope to complete the project by this summer.