A team of diverse adventurers embark on an epic 1,200-mile journey along the United States/Mexico border, down the Rio Grande to experience the vast landscapes before further construction of a border wall. During the horse, mountain bike, and canoe-powered journey, they will encounter personal stories from both sides of the border, examine differing immigration viewpoints, and explore the impacts to wildlife, public lands, private landowners, and all who call the borderlands home in the feature documentary THE RIVER AND THE WALL.
The 1,200-mile journey starts at the Texas, Mexico, and New Mexico intersection where the Rio Grande River is diverted into an irrigation canal. The crew, Texas filmmaker and horse trainer Ben Masters, Brazilian immigrant and Nat Geo Wild Host Filipe DeAndrade, Texas conservationist Jay Kleberg, wildlife biologist Heather Mackey, and Guatemalan-American river guide Austin Alvarado, will follow the remaining dry riverbed with mountain bikes through El Paso, the agricultural area immediately downstream, and through the Forgotten Reach, a 100-mile no-man’s land without any water, a wall, or support access. Mountain bikes will be traded for Ben Masters’ mustangs in Presidio, Texas, for a 200-mile horseback trip across the rugged Big Bend. At the tiny border town of Boquillas, horses will be switched for canoes to begin the lonely Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande, a 10-day float through the congressionally designated Wild & Scenic river. The crew will paddle across Lake Amistad, which means “friendship” in Spanish, and then paddle an additional 20 days through a forest of river cane all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
During the journey, the crew will meet with Border Patrol, wildlife biologists, ranchers, politicians, farmers, and locals encountered along the way. The team's goal is to experience the rugged and wild river valley before a border wall is built, to meet the people, see the wildlife, and try to understand the complexities of immigration, the efficacy or impotence of a potential border wall, and its impacts to wildlife. The River and The Wall documentary will take viewers for a wild adventure through one of the most rugged landscapes in North America while showcasing complex issues in a non-partisan manner. The documentary might be the last visuals of the river valley before a wall is constructed and the Rio Grande is changed forever.
Ben Masters grew up in West Texas, studied wildlife biology at Texas A&M University, and spent four years working on a border ranch near Laredo. Masters is best known for UNBRANDED, a feature documentary on Netflix, in which he and three friends adopted 16 wild mustangs, trained them, and rode 3,000 miles from Mexico to Canada to inspire wild horse adoptions. He is a published author, a National Geographic photographer, cinematographer, and writer, and his work has received dozens of domestic and international awards including the Audience Award at Hot Docs International Film Festival, the People’s Choice Award at Banff Film Festival, and the Audience Award at Telluride Mountainfilm. Masters represents the interests of wildlife on 31.2 Million acres of federal public land as the Wildlife Management Chair of the BLM’s volunteer Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board.
Hillary Pierce is an Austin-based documentary storyteller and producer. She is a part of the producing team behind Keith Maitland's dual 2016 documentaries TOWER and A SONG FOR YOU: THE AUSTIN CITY LIMITS STORY. Hillary began her documentary career at Maysles Films under the tutelage of Direct Cinema pioneer Albert Maysles and earned an MFA in Documentary Film at Wake Forest University. Her film THE ONE WHO BUILDS tells the story of the Muslim director of a refugee resettlement agency in the American South. It is currently being used in classrooms nationwide as a tool for highlighting unity in diversity and exploring immigrant and refugee issues through an intimate lens. TOWER won the Grand Jury Documentary Prize and Audience Award at SXSW in 2016, broadcast nationally on PBS’ Independent Lens in February 2017 and was shortlisted for an Academy Award. It is now available on Netflix. She is currently developing new projects, consulting for fellow filmmakers, and producing The Wild Texas Film Tour with filmmaker and conservationist Ben Masters, an 11-city endeavor showcasing short films and speakers highlighting conservation, wildlife and outdoor adventure launching in fall 2017.
Jay Kleberg is the Associate Director for Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation. He is part of a team that conserves Texas’ most pristine lands to benefit wildlife and provide recreational opportunities to the public. He is a sixth generation Texan, born and raised on a working cattle ranch in South Texas. He is co-founder of a Brazilian-based Amazonian adventure travel company and conservation organization. Jay lived in El Paso for eight years working in cities along both sides of the US-Mexico border. He has experience with multi-day expeditions, having piloted a single-engine Cessna 5,500 miles from the Amazon to Texas in 2003, rode a mountain bike 2,700 miles along the Continental Divide Trail from the US- Mexico Border to Banff and paddled 264 miles of the San Marcos and Guadalupe Rivers as part of the Texas Water Safari. Jay lives in Austin with his wife and three daughters.
Filipe DeAndrade was born in Brazil, immigrated to the United States at age six, and grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. When he’s not in the field, he’s living in Florida out of a film production truck converted from a retired ambulance. Filipe is a Director for the Comfort Theory production company; the host for NatGeo Wild’s UNTAMED web series, and his love for wildlife is only equaled by his passion to tell their stories. Filipe is an Emmy nominated Associate Producer, has been nominated for 19 NY EMMYs, and has freelanced across the world as a Director of Photography.
Heather grew up in upstate New York near the Adirondack Mountains. After completing a BS in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University, she spent the next five years work as a field biologist. She has conducted conservation research in a variety of remote locations including Kodiak Island, Alaska where she led a two-month expedition to research the nesting ecology of the enigmatic Kittlitz’s Murrelet. She’s also worked in the Galapagos Islands, where she was part of a team studying Waved Albatross and Nazca Boobies as well as the Australian rainforest where she contributed to research on the behavior of the Satin Bowerbird. It wasn’t until she began her MS research at California State University Los Angeles that she discovered the wonderment of West Texas. She committed to field research in the hottest part of Big Bend National Park, during peak temperatures (100+ degrees), site unseen. Through her two seasons on the Rio Grande researching the impact of riparian restoration on the bird and butterfly communities she’s developed a deep appreciation for the wildlife and the people of West Texas.
Austin was born in Austin, TX. He is a 1st generation Guatemalan American and spent his childhood going back and forth between Austin, TX and Guatemala. He chose to go to Texas A&M and while earning his B.S. in Recreation, Parks and Tourism Science, he spent summers working on cruise ships in the Mediterranean and river guiding on the Rio Grande in the Big Bend. Austin has paddled a number of rivers around the world but he continues to call the Rio Grande his home. He now is the Activities and River manager for the leading outfitter in Big Bend, Far Flung Outdoor Center. Austin has spent the past 5 years leading commercial trips down the Rio Grande, with the last 3 years as a permanent resident of the Big Bend area. Collectively, he has paddled over 200 miles of the Rio Grande in the Big Bend area.
Phillip earned a degree in media and theatre arts from Montana State University. Following his passion for film, storytelling and adventure, he went to work in television and documentary filmmaking. His most credited broadcast series are DESTINATION EXTREME on National Geographic (Field Producer/DP/Editor), AX MEN on the History Channel (Field Producer/Camera Operator), MEATEATER on the Sportsman Channel (DP) and MOUNTAIN MEN on the History Channel (Camera Operator). In 2008, Phillip founded Implement Productions, based in Bozeman, MT. Phillip’s first feature length documentary, UNBRANDED (Director and DP), won the 2015 Audience Choice Award at Hot Docs International Film Festival, Telluride Mountainfilm, and the Banff Mountain Film Festival. He recently finished his next feature length documentary, CHARGED, THE EDUARDO GARCIA STORY (Director and DP). CHARGED was the opening night film for the Santa Barbara film festival in January 2017 and is currently playing festivals nationwide.
John Aldrich grew up in Florida, but was raised by Texans and got here as fast as he could, studying Film and Government at the University of Texas ('94). He received his Master's in Documentary Filmmaking from the Documentary Institute at the University of Florida ('00) and lived and worked in the Washington, D.C. area for the next ten years (seven of them as a producer/editor for National Geographic Television) before returning to Texas. Since then, his work includes producing, editing and shooting the feature docs AN UNREAL DREAM: THE MICHAEL MORTON STORY (CNN, December 2013, SXSW Audience Award) and AUDUBON (PBS, April 2017) as well as shorts for GQ, The New Yorker, National Geographic, Yeti, Natalie Merchant and Bob Schneider.
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