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Filmmaker to tell story of proposed border fence

August 8, 2008 – 10:13PM

Filmmaker Nat Stone has become addicted to telling the story of the border and the Rio Grande.

When Stone embarked on a kayaking trip down the entire Rio Grande in 2004, he picked up a video camera for the first time so he could recall the places he saw and people he met.

“When I launched my canoe in Colorado, I expected naively to reach the Gulf of Mexico late that summer,” he said.

Now, enamored with the historical and contemporary stories of the river, Stone’s research is indefinite.

“Going down the Rio Grande, a river that has been repeatedly trashed by corporate and government interests, I found that it was in many places devoid of water but in all places full of soul,” he said.

Now, Stone is among three other groups of filmmakers who have recently come to the Rio Grande Valley to tell the story of the proposed U.S. border fence.

Stone was brought to the debate through the river. He used his camera to make short films and put them on Youtube ( He sends clips to lawmakers and allows sound bites from congressional hearings to do their own talking.

“I’ve tried to manipulate (the clips) as little as possible,” he said. “I don’t change the order of what was said, I just boil it down as much as I can.”

In a project by another group of filmmakers, the Border Stories, like Stone’s films, has created more than 20 short films during the past six months. The shorts, which are rapidly uploaded to the Internet, can be viewed at no cost.

The group of four journalists and filmmakers was awarded a grant by the New York non-profit, Projectile Arts, to travel the entire U.S.-Mexico border and create a series of short films.

Although the group took more time with post-production than Stone, filmmaker Clara Long says that getting the episodes from camera to computer in less than two weeks was an integral part of the project.

“If we did a feature-length documentary, we’d put it together and next year it would come out,” she said, “but things are happening now.”

The only linear aspect of Border Stories is the geographic path of the border, beginning at Boca Chica Beach and ending in San Diego.

The films include stories of the Ciudad Juarez reporters, Brownsville’s No Border Wall walkers, and doctors who treat border fence-jumpers in San Diego. The series also portrays an expanse where themes relate but variation is endless.

“We want to create a feeling that you sat down and had a conversation with someone,” said Long, who believes that alternative film projects like Border Stories fill a gap left by television news. “The mainstream media is hampered because of the tradition of point-counterpoint. There’s this idea that you have to show all sides of a situation. That’s very useful for some things, but we wanted to create an opportunity for people to completely express where they’re coming from.”

The group has been nominated for an Online News Association Award in the category of Online Video Presentation.

On the other end of the profession spectrum from Stone, veteran filmmaker Wayne Ewing is completing “The Border Wall,” a more traditional full-length documentary.

The footage was shot with the intention of appearing in an episode of Bill Moyers, an investigative news show on PBS. Like Stone and the Border Stories filmmakers, Ewing said he was surprised by how much of the story had yet to be told.

“I was amazed at the complexity of the story,” he said. “What surprised me the most was the resistance of the people in the lower Rio Grande Valley.”

Ewing’s film will premiere at the Starz Denver Film Festival in November, and he hopes that it will air on PBS next year.

Ewing hopes that the five-minute preview at will put its central ideas in the public eye.

Ewing and Long agree that the fragmentation and sheer length of the border, combined with individual losses and victories in border communities, has made it more difficult to tell a cohesive story.

Despite the diversity of the filmmakers’ approaches – including the citizen journalism of the activist and author Stone – the films have combined to create a portrayal that is more complex than any method might have captured individually.

“I’m surprised that the mainstream national press hasn’t covered it more than they have,” Ewing said. “Perhaps that’s why independent filmmakers like myself and these other people have rushed in to fill that void.”


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