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Valley-based film touches on unfiltered border crossing experiences

A major motion picture on border crossing and cartel affairs continues via pre-production in Brownsville, Texas, loaded with a Valley-native cast and crew.

Hidalgo actress Wendy Lara sits outside a building in downtown Brownsville, playing an extra on set. Progress Times photo by Maria Ruiz.

A Treacherous Border, written by San Diego-born Lawerence M. Watson, follows a single mother traveling with her child to cross the Rio Grande River and the dangers that lie with it.

It is based on the violence Lawerence Watson’s wife, Marina, witnessed while crossing the Rio Grande with coyotes — people who smuggle immigrants across the Mexico-United States border — over thirty years ago.

“Every time there was violence,” said Marina Watson, explaining she crossed the river four times in her late twenties and early thirties. “You’re terrified because you don’t know what will happen and if it’ll happen to you. You see the abuse the coyotes do to people…it’s the worst thing that can happen to a human being.”

Photo by Marco Demarco.

Scriptwriter and executive producer Lawrence Watson said The Treacherous Border shares immigrant crossing experiences based on firsthand eyewitnesses and accounts from his wife.

“I wanted to write a story, so I called a detective from the border and wrote the script,” he said, completing the story in 2019 while residing in Harlingen.

However, the script failed to get greenlit for the last five years before being picked up by Lion and Tiger Entertainment Productions CEO Steve Mendoza.

Progress Times photo by Maria Ruiz.

“It was about five years. No one picked it up. No one thought it was good. They laughed at me,” Lawrence Watson said. The script would then go on to win 32 awards globally.

And now, five years later, the script has become the first major motion picture filmed in the lower Rio Grande Valley, says the executive producer.

Mendoza, 47, producer for The Treacherous Border, said that the film will go in-depth into border violence.

“We want to just really show what’s going on down here, along with a real story that our forefathers, our family came over [with], and how hard it was to cross over with the coyote,” he said, paying tribute to those who survived and those who died wanting a better life. “Some of them didn’t make it…That’s why it’s so important for me to do this film.”

Progress Times photo by Maria Ruiz.

Themes surrounding abuse, criminal mafia, and the Black Market are prominent in the movie, with the cast and crew wrapping up an organ trafficking scene last Friday in downtown Brownsville.

Notable talents bringing the script to screen include Mission native Joseph Thomas ‘JT’ Campos and Weslaco teen Brooklyn Love Dillard.

Campos, known for his role as Boaz in USA Network’s Queen of the South, plays El Coralillo, the main antagonist.

Photo by Marco Demarco.

The actor describes how he dips into the mindset of El Coralillo.

“I try not to show too much emotion with my character,” said Campos. “When I take on these [bad guy] characters, I am going to dive into a world of ‘where am I?’ in that character’s backstory.”

Dillard,13, portrays a Ukrainian immigrant crossing with other girls until taken for human trafficking.

“My character, she’s sixteen. Her name’s Olivia. She’s Ukrainian. She’s coming from Europe,” she said. “In the process, she gets captured by Russians and almost gets auctioned off [to the cartel].”

Her character, Olivia, works in intense scenes with El Coralillo, as she is one of the young women the cartel leader preys on.

“My character, she’s gone through a lot,” Dillard said. “I cry in most of the scenes.”

Where El Coralillo is a crude, selfish leader, Olivia is a lost soul, stricken with constant fear and anguish on screen time. Campos’ aggressive, heartless delivery bounces off Dillard’s powerless, innocent act like a battle of dark and light.

Showing authentic vulnerability during takes, Dillard emphasizes the on-set trust she and Campos built to tell their characters’ stories.

“The people that you’re most comfortable with, you will show the most emotion,” she said.

Campos further contextualizes this.

Photo by Marco Demarco.

“When you can trust the people you’re working with you’re able to create that much more freely,” he said, echoing Dillard’s statement in an interview she did with KRGV earlier last week.

“There was a scene where I’m having to physically put my hands on these young ladies,” he said. “Ms. Jenn Rangubphai (Campos’ administrative and marketing director) said it best…’The world knows human trafficking. But they’ve never seen a visual like we’re bringing.'”

To bring an impactful visual, the film team has the cinematography dexterity of Mexico City director Fernando San Miguel Villagomez and first-assistant director and actor Kaleb Phoenix of Pharr.

Progress Times photo by Maria Ruiz.

For Mendoza, RGV talent and skill are crucial to his vision of pivoting the Valley into a filming hub.

“I’m trying to have Brownsville…get a better film commission. And my five-year goal is to build two sound stages here [in Brownsville],” Mendoza said. “I want it to be open for the RGV.”

He further said that having a film epicenter for the Valley and Texas as a whole can benefit the people who live here.

“LA (Los Angeles) is dying now, and people are going to…Atlanta to film, Miami, or what have you. Why not [start] in the great state of Texas?” Mendoza said. “There’s so much talent here from Austin, Dallas to Houston. It’s something that we as a Hispanic Latino community should be able to [bring and] be placed on the map.”

Filming will finish in the next few weeks, with a release date aiming for late October. Film issuance details remain unspecified, with an anonymous major studio looking to possibly assist in distribution.

“The world wants to know what’s going on down here,” Mendoza said. “I think it’s really important for people to know what’s going on, not turn their heads.”

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