Border wall film premieres at historic theater
By ANA LEY, The Monitor, July 18, 2009
McALLEN — The scene at Cine El Rey on Friday evening was all too collegiate.
Dozens of political activists, professors and 20-somethings gathered there to watch the premiere of The Wall, a documentary about the border fence being erected along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The film, directed by California native Ricardo Martinez, chronicles the effect of the barrier’s construction on border towns. Most of the film, Martinez said, was shot in the Rio Grande Valley — so it only made sense to show the film at the historic Cine El Rey.
"Symbolically, the theater is a perfect location," Martinez said. "We wanted to show it where people were most impacted by the fence."
Congress authorized the fence in 2005 to help secure the border and deter illegal immigration. Lawmakers also gave the U.S. homeland security secretary the power to waive federal laws when erecting the barrier. President Barack Obama, as a senator, voted in favor of the project.
For the past three years, Martinez and his crew have interviewed U.S. Border Patrol agents, illegal immigrants and residents directly affected by the fence.
The film also follows two illegal immigrants from Mexico who eventually end up in Brooklyn and Tennessee.
"The story just kept going and going," said Martinez, a production editor for ABC. "It was so hard to explain all this stuff."
Martinez said past projects have included a documentary he made when he was 16 about graffiti and a collection of short educational films.
"I hope the film will show how lives are endangered by the wall," said Emmy Perez, a poetry professor at the University of Texas-Pan American. "It’s harmful in so many ways."
Jose Rodriguez, a McAllen resident pursing graduate studies at Binghamton University in New York state, said he had a special interest in the film because, like many Valley natives, he has family ties to Mexico.
"Historically, walls have never worked," Rodriguez said. "We’re one as a community on both sides."
Stefanie Herweck, co-founder of the No Border Wall group, hoped to catch a glimpse of herself and fellow group members at the screening — Martinez interviewed some of them for the movie. The South Texas organization protests the federal government’s construction of the security fence.
"It was a good opportunity for local activists and political people to give their message," Herweck said.