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A Visitor’s Guide to America’s Great Big Border Wall

Dec 17, 2018 | 831 videos
Video by David Freid

As the border between the United States and Mexico began to figure more and more prominently in the news cycle, the filmmaker David Freid noticed a consistent blind spot: No one, it seemed, was talking to the people who actually lived there.

He decided to pay a visit to Big Bend National Park, which composes 13 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border. There, he encountered Mike Davidson, the captain of the Rio Grande’s only international ferry.

“But we discovered that the international ferry was a rowboat,” Freid told The Atlantic.

Though no hulking vessel, the modest boat transports 11,000 annual visitors—a feat for which Davidson, whom Freid describes as “a good ambassador between Mexico and the United States,” has been responsible for more than 40 years.

Freid’s short documentary Ferryman at the Wall is the story of two countries that, for the most part, peacefully coexist where it matters most: at the dividing line. “When there’s a fire in Big Bend National Park, residents from Boquillas, Mexico, come up to help fight it,” Freid said. Davidson, an American, has homes in both Texas and Mexico; he speaks Spanish and English fluently. Freid found that this cultural melding was commonplace in the towns adjacent to Big Bend.

“There isn’t just a straight line where one country ends and the other begins,” Freid said. “People’s family and friends extend in both directions. The land on either side of the Rio Grande is identical, and the people are close to identical as well. The two countries bleed into each other.”

Davidson echoes that sentiment in the film. “These countries are entwined more than people could ever imagine,” he says. “Politicians get a lot of mileage talking hard about the border when they absolutely don’t have a clue.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.