Bold Storyteller Gives Voice to Border Issues

Feb. 1, 2011

“Necessity is the engine that moves people in ways they might have never imagined.”

With these few words, Luis Carlos Davis, UA alumnus, graduate student and award-winning director encapsulates the greatest lesson he has learned from his work as a filmmaker and storyteller. As a son of the Arizona-Mexico border region of Nogales, Davis understands necessity, and that need has driven him to become who he is today.

“At the beginning, I wasn’t a great student.” He struggled with school, but he discovered his talents in art, band and drama. While his siblings were better students by nature, he had to make the conscious decision to become more disciplined. It took years, even on up through his first years at a community college, but his work paid off.

By the time Davis arrived at the UA, he was prepared and determined to face—and exceed—the higher standards of such an institution.

“My brother and sister graduated from the UA. In a way, I always knew that I wanted to come here. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but I knew I needed to get a degree from this university if I was going to be successful,” he says.

Driven by bold determination, he certainly has achieved great things.

Telling Stories, Changing Lives

Davis draws from the past while simultaneously looking to the future in his filmmaking. His award-winning documentary “389 Miles: Living the Border,” a film that started as his master’s thesis, chronicles the current immigration debate through stories depicting the experiences and emotions of people who move through the US-Mexico border region. Davis doesn’t shy away from tough topics; he addresses survival, human trafficking, rape, corruption and more, bringing controversial topics out into the open to question, challenge and educate audiences.

According to Shirin Sadeghi of The Huffington Post, he is “the first-ever filmmaker to gain the confidence of a coyote—those faceless smugglers who charge exorbitant fees to cross people over the border into the United States, and his film is, unbeknownst to most Americans, at the heart of this immigration controversy.”

It’s capturing and telling stories like these that allow Davis to have a true impact on his community.

“I showed this film to a class in a Santa Cruz county high school,” he says. Davis often visits schools and works with students, teaching them about writing, filming and creating. He hopes to provide students in the border region with the vision, discipline and strength to see beyond their own borders. He tells about one high-school student who had aspired to be a coyote because of the money. “Afterward seeing my film,” says Davis, “he came up to me and said he no longer wanted to be a coyote.”

Honored for Influence

”389 Miles” has already been honored as Official Selection in the Guadalajara International Film Festival, the most important film festival in Mexico and one of the top three in Latin America. It has also won the Audience Award for Best Film in the Puerto Vallarta International Film Festival, and was an Official Selection in the Cine+Más San Francisco Latino Film Festival.

Following on a nomination by his professor, Dr. Jennifer Jenkins, Davis was also honored in 2010 as Tucson’s “40 Under 40 Man of the Year,” selected from a highly competitive list of 196 professionals from across the Tucson. Jenkins also pushed him to apply for the Northern Trust/Piper Enrichment Award, a scholarship competition for graduate students in the arts.

He won that, too.

Today, Davis lives his life connected both to his border home as well as to the UA, where he continues to learn and grow personally, intellectually and professionally. He is applying to the University to pursue his doctorate in Hispanic literature with an emphasis on border studies, has completed work on two more documentaries, and is now producing two more films, one set in Mexico, the other in Arizona.

As for “389 Miles,” the film will continue to teach audiences and spark discussions about border issues for years to come.

Learn more about the film and view the trailer at