New York filmmaker shoots documentary in Brownsville on migration issues

Academy Award nominee Robert Bilheimer an American Director and President of the non-profit organization Worldwide Documentaries sits on a piano bench Tuesday, Sep. 15, 2020, inside the Carlotta K. Petrina Cultural Center in downtown Brownsville, Texas as Bilheimer films on location "Where Am I" a film in Bilheimer's series "Running to Stand Still" about the dehumanization and exploitation of forced migrants and refugees in the U.S. and Around the World. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

On a sunny day in September, the Carlotta Petrina was transformed into the set for a documentary on migration issues as crew members unloaded their cameras, lights and more equipment from the vehicles while members inside moved the furniture as they got ready to interview the first person minutes after.

Bob Bilheimer, the documentary filmmaker from Upstate New York who is leading the project, visited Brownsville to shoot the first short episode of “Running to Stand Still” a film series about the dehumanization and exploitation of forced migrants and refugees. The filmmaker is an Oscar nominee and the 2019 recipient of the Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice.

When asked about the importance of sheding light to the migration issue in the Rio Grande Valley, he said it is important for the American public to be informed on these issues, especially now that the National Elections are getting closer.

The film will summarize the entire migration situation and bring to light the suffering that is taking place at the border, and the urgent need for a humanitarian response. The intent of this film is to bring this situation to the nation’s attention in a visceral way.

“It is just who I am, I am a documentary filmmaker who cares deeply about global human rights issues and I don’t have another answer except that I’ve been doing this all my life in a sense,” he said. “I care about other human beings, I grew up in a background where my mother was a teacher who specialized in teaching English as a second language … so she worked with refugees when I was a young man.”

Bilheimer is no stranger to the migration issues going on in the Valley, especially those at the camp site at the Gateway International Bridge between Matamoros and Brownsville. He was in conversations with sister Norma Pimentel, the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and an altruist and advocate for migrant’s rights, who motivated him to do this 10-minute film before the elections.

“We are not wasting time, the idea is to get this issue of forced migrants, asylum seekers, what’s happening to them and why they’re being denied access and all these other things. To get this issue in front of the American public and into the national debate before the elections,” the filmmaker said.

Alejandro Cruz, director and administrator at the Carlotta Petrina, said it is important for the Carlotta Petrina to help these type of events in Brownsville to send the message that the city is a film-friendly location. As the crew was getting ready to shoot, Cruz said it is important for the country to see what is going on at the border.

“It’s very important to let the nation be aware of what’s going on here at the border, because it is very natural, very normal for us to have this kind of situation here where we coexist with different immigrants, they don’t have papers, refugees and for us is very elemental to have this space for them so they can find a home, a place to belong to, so they can find something that they are going to reach out and hold on to it,” he said.

He added the Carlotta Petrina is home to many artists who are migrants and refugees and have found a safe haven there to express themselves.

“Art is an outlet of expression, is an outlet for letting your emotions out because sometimes we have so many issues going on, so many problems with what is happening in 2020,” he said.

“It has been a rollercoaster year but as a musician, you can let those expressions out through music, through art, through a painting, we have been doing a lot of those activities here for the community and they are very grateful for that.”

The film is set to be released the first week of October, for more information visit their Facebook page “Running to Stand Still.”

nreyna@brownsvilleherald.com