Why build a physical wall when nature provides a beautiful, scenic barrier already?
It’s one of many questions raised by director Ben Masters’ new documentary, “The River and The Wall,” an up-close, intoxicating feature about border security along the Rio Grande river in south Texas.
Winner of the Louis Black “Lone Star” Award at the 2019 South by Southwest Film Festival and Best Documentary at the 10thannual Hill Country Film Festival in Fredericksburg, “The River and The Wall” views politics through the lens of a nature photographer, opting away from soundbites and towards a cinematic love letter to the beauty of Texas.
The film is currently in limited release in theaters (the best way to view this vivid cinematic documentary) or can be rented from select streaming platforms.
Joined by an ecologist, a wildlife filmmaker, Texas Parks and Wildlife representative and a river guide, Masters and his crew trek across the last untamed portions of Texas, a 1,200-mile stretch between El Paso and the Gulf of Mexico as close to the actual border as possible.
The five-person team travel by bicycle, on horseback and on the river in canoes over the course of nearly three months over dangerous rapids and across harrowing terrain while shooting one of the most scenic, visually captivating documentaries in recent years.
Masters’ film takes a highly complex political problem and removes partisanship from the equation, relying on common sense and a boots-on-the-ground vantage point to provide a fresh perspective to the debate.
While the film makes a strong case against the construction of a continuous wall, Masters builds arguments practically by showing audiences how inefficient and overly burdensome a wall would be in some stretches logistically. Many segments of the natural border between the two nations are divided by large canyons where building a wall would be impractical and threatens to cut off wildlife from their natural habitat and/or access to fresh water.
However, “The River and The Wall” does not argue for complete abandonment of a wall and in fact goes to great lengths to recommend strong border security and additional support for U.S. Border Patrol agents.
To provide context along the journey, Masters interviews stakeholders on the border including landowners and law enforcement officials as well as Republican Congressman Will Hurd and Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke.
The realities of illegal immigration aren’t forgotten by the documentary either. Two of the five travelers – Filipe Deandrade and Austin Alvarado – are the children of immigrants who crossed the border without permission and their stories provide context to the hardships faced by Central American refugees seeking asylum.
Events late in the film provide a wonderful, unexpected counterbalance to those stories and leave audiences with complex questions to think about.
What truly sets “The River and The Wall” apart from the typical documentary is the sweeping, grandiose cinematography that Masters’ team is able to capture along largely undeveloped stretches of the Rio Grande Valley.
The film’s striking imagery comes through in panoramic wide shots that maintain the landscape as a primary character in the film rather than simply as a backdrop. These ultra-wide shots illuminate a wall’s current and potential future impact as well as ground the entire feature in nature.
Scenes are vivid and crisp as if they were falling out of the pages of “National Geographic.” There’s no stronger argument for leaving this area untouched by man than the landscapes captured here.
A thought-provoking documentary that blends current events with wildlife cinematography for one of 2019’s best features so far, no discussion about security along the U.S. border with Mexico is complete without having seen “The River and The Wall.”