UT Grad Brings Hollywood to the Rio Grande Valley

 

Rio Grande Valley native Rene Rhi’s film Bordando la Frontera is almost as Texan as he is.

Set in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the 27-minute Bordando la Frontera is based on an actual news event in 2007.

“I have a Yahoo! account, so you’re forced to read the news,” says Rene Rhi, BS ’00, BA ’02, MA ’07. “This story really struck me, so I immediately wrote a little script.”

The news article detailed the story of a 9-year-old boy who wandered the Arizona desert for hours, seeking help after a car crash left his mother pinned under the wreckage. A Mexican national who had crossed the U.S. border illegally chose to help the boy—even though staying meant the possibility of deportation.

Rhi’s film is more about compassion, love, and sympathy than it is about politics, and his portrayal of these universal values is garnering attention: Bordando la Frontera won the Audience Choice Best Short Film award at New York’s Stony Brook Film Festival this summer.

The filmmaker is grateful for the award, but not simply because of the prestige. “All the guys on the film worked really hard,” Rhi says. “They were my friends, and I wasn’t paying them. I couldn’t afford to pay them. So it’s nice to see [the film] doing well.”

Like Rhi, Bordando la Frontera grew up on both sides of the Mexican-American border.  Filmed in Brownsville and its sister town Matamoros, the movie is built around Rhi’s own family roots.

“Most of my friends were the extras in the film,” Rhi says. “And we all stayed at my home. My mom would cook for 10 guys at three or four in the morning. Everyone was so supportive.”

Rhi even used local talent. Though the story called for a young boy, Rhi went with a young actress from McAllen, Texas, instead. And the local film commission—fronted by the film’s co-producer Peter Goodman—helped Rhi find locations for filming.

“They take good care of me here,” Rhi says.

The film was also a fusion of Rhi’s coursework on the Forty Acres. As an undergrad, Rhi studied Spanish and radio-television-film. Though he grew up speaking Spanish at home, he says the knowledge of Spanish literature he got at UT helped him write the film, which is in Spanish with English subtitles.

After spending six years at UT, Rhi has plenty of advice for Longhorns who are aspiring filmmakers.

“Don’t be afraid to express your ideas and stories,” he says. “Many people will criticize your work; others will like it. The important thing is to keep creating and learning.”

And Rhi is definitely still creating. He’s currently at work writing a feature-length script that reflects a friend’s experience as a soldier in Iraq. He hopes the film can be shot exclusively in Texas.

 Photo and movie poster courtesy Rene Rhi.

 

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