Maharis' big break came when producer Christopher Bannon heard her on a talk radio station in Tucson. Bannon tipped off his brother, Stephen Bannon, an ex-Goldman Sachs investment banker who heads Genius Products, a hot independent home-video distributor that has partnered with Harvey and Bob Weinstein to handle the Weinstein Co.'s home-video releases. Bannon, who has directed a film himself - - a 2004 documentary about President Reagan's battle against communism -- sensed that Maharis was the perfect spokeswoman for such explosive material.
"Cochise County, USA" doesn't smother its subject with carefully modulated objectivity, the way the immigration debate is often portrayed on network news or -- ahem -- in most newspapers. In an era when the bloody war in Iraq has largely been sanitized before it arrives in our living room -- we often don't even get to see the flag-draped coffins -- Maharis makes a point of including graphic footage of the bloated bodies of immigrants who have died trying to cross the border.
Every time Maharis screens her film, passions run high. When she showed the movie at a library in the town of Bisbee, Ariz., the place was packed with both anti-immigration ranchers and open- border advocates. Afterward, all hell broke loose. "Everyone started yelling and arguing, and the poor librarian couldn't stop them," Maharis recalls. "It felt good -- maybe I was getting people riled up enough to act."