The River And The Wall


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The River And The Wall
"Although, like the river, it's uneven in depth and sometimes meanders a bit too far, this is an extensively researched and intriguing documentary."

"Mexico is not going to build it, we're going to build it. And it's going to be a serious wall," said Donald Trump.

Serious, as it turns out, means 1,200 miles long and 25 feet high. But where, exactly? Obviously not on Mexico's territory since it's a US project. As it's the Rio Grande that formally separates the two countries and it rarely makes sense to build on a riverbank - and as a fair bit of the land here is mountainous - it actually has to be built quite a way inside US territory, effectively ceding around 100 acres to Mexico. This includes some of that area's finest farmland, parts of it handed down through families for generations. it also blocks crucial wildlife corridors essential to protecting endangered species; it's liable to prevent some animals from accessing vital water sources and leave others with no escape in the event of flooding. And then there's the fact that, legal or not, much seasonal work in the area depends on the free movement of labour. To say that people in the affected areas are unhappy would be something of an understatement.

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Keen to understand the real impact of the wall, documentarian Ben Masters and a group of his friends - with various relevant personal histories and scientific specialities - decided to travel the length of the wall, starting out on bikes, hiking part of the way, riding specially trained horses through some of the most difficult terrain and ending up by canoeing along the Rio Grande itself. En route they talk to local people from a variety of backgrounds. Democrat politician Beto O'Rourke questions the feasibility of the border itself while Republican politician Will Hurd opines that border control is essential but this is wholly the wrong way to go about it. There's a look at some of the alternatives and, though we see nothing of the tunnels that have reportedly already been dug beneath completed sections, we do eventually see one of the travellers attempting to answer the question that has been on everybody's lips: how easy is it to climb?

In the process of doing all this, the team explore some fabulous landscapes and we see some of the wild creatures which inhabit them. We also get insights into cultures on both sides of the wall, taking a sojourn into Mexico where people complain that the wall is likely to damage the tourist trade. As we learn about the family backgrounds of the second generation immigrants in the team, we get some perspective on how desperate people need to be to attempt a border crossing, not because of any security measures but because of the nature of the land around it. There's also a look at US immigration statistics which demonstrates how small a fraction of illegal immigrants is made up of people taking that route. As in most first world countries, overstaying on visas makes up the bulk of cases.

Although, like the river, it's uneven in depth and sometimes meanders a bit too far, this is an extensively researched and intriguing documentary which answers questions many of those caught up in discussions about the wall have yet to think of asking, yet which will become significant if the project is ever completed. The controversial president, meanwhile, remains determined to complete it - and apparently didn't learn much on his visit to China. "Someday, when I'm no longer around, they will call at the Trump wall," he says. "It`s got to be the greatest wall."

Reviewed on: 02 May 2019
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The River And The Wall packshot
Five friends travel 1,200 miles from El Paso to the Gulf of Mexico on horses, mountain bikes and canoes, along the line of where the US-Mexico border wall is scheduled to be built.

Director: Ben Masters

Starring: Ben Masters, Jay Kleberg, Filipe DeAndrade, Heather Mackey, Austin Alvarado, Beto O'Rourke, Will Hurd

Year: 2019

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: Mexico, US


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