Letters from the Other Side brings up one of the perennial questions about documentary filmmaking: how much should you involve yourself in your subjects' lives, and to what extent? Should you run the risk of potentially affecting the outcome of your film, or is it more important to help people you encounter while shooting? Some filmmakers make a serious attempt not to have much effect on the stories unfolding around them, and don't employ voice-overs or let themselves be heard in their film. Others, meanwhile, are themselves a big part of their stories, the best-known example being Michael Moore. Heather Courtney, director of Letters from the Other Side, obviously decided to help—in fact, the stories in the documentary hinge on Courtney's ability to deliver video "letters" back and forth between women in small Mexican towns and their male relatives working in the United States.
Letters from the Other Side eloquently manages to present stories that show the relationship between Mexico and the U.S. and the unexpected side effects of recent American trade laws and border-tightening regulations. Courtney's documentary examines three family situations: Eugenia, whose husband left for the U.S. years ago when she was pregnant with their youngest daughter, and whose three sons have followed their dad to find work; Maria, a farmer whose two older sons crossed the border, and who is worried that as she and her husband grow old, no one will be left to work their own land; and Carmela and Laura, whose husbands died on their journey to the U.S. in a smuggling truck.