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Tuesday March 5th 2024

Traffic | 2000

Traffic filming location: N Street, Georgetown, Washington DC
Traffic location: Judge Wakefield mingles with senators at the DC cocktail party: N Street, Georgetown, Washington DC | Photograph: wikimedia / AgnosticPreachersKid

The director’s decision to operate his own (mainly hand-held) camera gives Steven Soderbergh’s take on the UK TV miniseries, Traffik, a feeling of documentary immediacy.

It's claimed the production uses over 100 separate locations to chart the complexities of the international drug trade, with three separate story strands centering on cop Javier (Benicio Del Toro) in Mexico; Helena Ayala (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the wife of a wealthy drug lord in San Diego; and anti-drug czar Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas) in Cincinnati and Washington DC.

The ‘Mexican’ desert, where Javier is relieved of confiscated drugs by the dubious General Salazar (Tomas Milian), is Box Canyon, just off Shalem Colony Trail, west of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Though there are a couple of establishing shots of the real Tijuana, the bordertown scenes were actually shot about 500 miles east, on the streets of Nogales, on the border with Arizona.

General Salazar’s HQ, where contract killer Frankie Flowers (Clifton Collins Jr) is tortured, is Rio Vista Farm Historic District, 800-801 Rio Vista Road in Socorro, southeast of El Paso, Texas. Originally called the El Paso Poor Farm, Rio Vista Farm was opened in 1915 to aid the indigent population. Scheduled to close in 1929, the Depression era kept it in use for many more years. In 1996, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places to preserve the remaining agricultural workers’ barracks.

In the San Diego section, Helen and her society friends twitter over the duck salad at the Rancho Bernardo Inn, 17550 Bernardo Oaks Drive.

The Ayala house is north of San Diego, at 7757 Whitefield Place, a short cul-de-sac off Soledad Avenue on the coast at La Jolla (the house, which fronts directly onto the street, was given a false front yard).

Husband Carlos Ayala is standing trial at the Hall of Justice, 330 West Broadway, downtown San Diego, while crucial witness Ruiz (Miguel Ferrer) is kept secure, across the street, in the Hotel San Diego, 339 West Broadway. The 1914 hotel closed in 2002 and was demolished in 2006 to make way for a courthouse extension.

With her comfortable world threatened, Helen hires Frankie Flowers to remove Ruiz. She meets up with him in the innocuous surroundings of the Botanical Building in the Botanical Garden of San Diego’s Balboa Park, 1549 El Prado.

As the strands of the storylines weave together, Javier meets with FBI agents at the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina, 333 West Harbor Drive.

In Ohio, the  Cincinnati home of Judge Wakefield is supposedly on ‘Indian Hill’, but was 1242 Edwards Road which is in the city’s Hyde Park district.

When Seth (Topher Grace) takes Wakefield’s daughter, Caroline (Erika Christensen) to the seamy side of town, it’s to Cincinnati’s Over-The-Rhine district. In the 19th Century, this area was home to German immigrants. They had to cross the Miami and Erie Canal to get to work in downtown Cincinnati, leading to the canal being dubbed "the Rhine". The neighbourhood’s nickname was inevitable, and it’s stuck.

Over-The-Rhine has been by-passed by redevelopment, resulting in the largest, most intact 19th-century urban neighbourhood in the States, making it an ideal period backdrop for films such as John Sayles’ 1988 Eight Men Out; The Public Eye (with Joe Pesci as photographer Weegee); A Rage In Harlem, and standing in for Fifties 'New York in Todd Haynes' Oscar-nominated Carol.

The area’s troubled Vine Street is where rich white kids provide the end-users in the chain of supply and demand. The rundown hotel, into which Caroline and Seth check for a bout of drug-fuelled sex, is now a respectable condo, 621 Main Street, at Gano Street.

Since 2004, there’s been a massive programme of revitalisation and the area’s seen a remarkable turnaround.

In Washington DC, Wakefield is interviewed by the Chief of Staff (Albert Finney), apparently at the Old Executive Building, 17th Street at Pennsylvania Avenue. A bit of photogenic licence, presumably, since the Chief of Staff’s office is in the White House.

Traffic location: Craven Estate, Madeline Drive, Pasadena, Los Angeles
Traffic location: interior of the Chief of Staff's office: Craven Estate, Madeline Drive, Pasadena, Los Angeles

And anyway, the scene was filmed in Los Angeles, at the familiar Craven Estate, 430 Madeline Avenue, Pasadena (seen in Being There and Enemy of the State). Wakefield is later seen leaving the White House gate (a craftily sneaked shot, which is what you can get when you have the clout of Michael Douglas). But not even Douglas could get a camera crew inside the White House itself, so the interior uses the set of TV’s The West Wing on the Warner BrothersBurbank lot.

The cocktail party, where Wakefield meets a clutch of (real) senators, is held in the Edes House, 2929 N Street at 30th Street NW, in Georgetown. Built in 1908 as "a home for aged and indigent widows of Georgetown", the former retirement home was converted in 1998 into an 8-bedroom residence.

Fact-finding takes the newly-appointed supremo down Mexico way. Although the aerial shots of  Mexico City’s vast Zócalo (the second largest square in the world, after Moscow’s Red Square) and the National Palace are real enough, the meeting with Salazar filmed in a bank building in downtown Los Angeles.

As Wakefield mingles with real-life officials at two genuine locations, Soderbergh blurs the line between fact and fiction. At the San Ysidro/Tijuana border crossing, south of San Diego, Wakefield glimpses the sheer scale of the customs’ problem – 28 lanes of traffic make up the world’s busiest international crossing.

And in the real El Paso Intelligence Center Headquarters (EPIC), 11339 SSG Sims Street,  El Paso, Texas, he’s briefed by Craig Chretien, the official who acted as technical consultant on the film.