Ben Masters is a filmmaker. He grew up in West Texas and studied wildlife biology at Texas A&M University. He also spent four years working on a border ranch near Laredo, all of which qualifies him to have made a film about one of the most volatile issues facing Americans during the presidency of Donald J. Trump:
The border wall separating the United States from Mexico.
What separates Masters from pundits on both sides of the hot-button issue is that he actually went to the border to document what's happening, to study the Rio Grande River and the snaky 1,200 miles from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico.
Rivers' new film is The River and the Wall, which will be the "Spotlight Screening Selection" at the EarthxFilm Festival, which opens April 19 and runs through April 28 at Fair Park and theaters throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The River and the Wall is the centerpiece of the third edition of the festival, which will feature 15 feature films, 40 shorts and more than 40 immersive "entertainment experiences and exhibits that shine a light on important conservation efforts." The River and the Wall will screen at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science on April 25.
The festival will also address pollution, the scary potential of a lack of conservation and, of course, climate change. And the filmmakers can actually walk away with money. Cash and jury prizes this year will total $25,000.
David Holbrooke, the artistic director of the festival, cites "the urgency" of many of the crucial battles depicted in the films. As a whole, he sees the lineup of offerings as being "serious, well-crafted stories that bear witness to what is happening out there on the front lines."
The River and the Wall follows five friends on an adventure through the wilds of the Texas borderlands. They traveled the 1,200 miles from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico along the Rio Grande on horses, mountain bikes and canoes.
The purpose of their journey, Masters recently told Marfa Public Radio, was "to document all of that border before further construction of the border wall and to understand what is going on, how a border wall will impact wildlife, the landowners, the communities and immigration."
They interviewed people "the whole way down," showing through film that "the Rio Grande is a beautiful, beautiful river system."
Before leaving, people he knows expressed fears about his journey, as though there was this "big, dangerous, imminent threat" facing Masters and his crew, as though "some cartel is going to come and steal you away, at any moment's notice. 'There are bad guys behind very rock.' That's just not what we found."
He interviewed those who favor the border wall and those who oppose it. Masters comes from "a very conservative background." He says he wanted to understand both viewpoints of the highly volatile issue. He hopes the film shows people that the Rio Grande "is a river. It's not just a border." He also thinks there's a "bad stereotype of the border, that it's a bad place to live."
He hopes people come away from the film realizing "that the issue of immigration is really complex."
He bemoans the fact that "the wall has become a symbol and a campaign promise and kind of a distraction, in my opinion, of really looking at immigration reform. It's already such a touchy topic as it is."
But The River and the Wall is strikingly different from the viewpoints of news-show pundits on television, who sit in studios in New York and Washington. To use a journalistic example, it's a story backed up by real reporting, by being there, by examining a difficult issue up close and in person.
In the end, he says. what his reporting told him is that the wall is "a third-century solution to a 21st-century problem."
The 2019 EarthxFilm Festival opens April 19, with screenings that day at the Dallas Angelika and the Alamo Drafthouse Cedars. For more information on all the films and a full schedule, click here or visit earthx.org/film.