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1918 Porvenir massacre subject of locally filmed movie

April 13th, 2017 under Features
(photo by JESSICA LUTZ) Penelope Gil at the Porvenir film set.

(photo by JESSICA LUTZ)
Penelope Gil at the Porvenir film set.

By JOHN DANIEL GARCIA

johndaniel@bigbendnow.com

CIBOLO CREEK RANCH – Dozens of area residents wearing stained white clothing – some without shoes – hid behind walls made of thick branches under the hot West Texas sun on a set built in 12 days at Cibolo Creek Ranch on Sunday, waiting for other locals dressed as early 20th century cowboys, Texas Rangers, and Calvarymen to march them to their deaths in front of movie cameras.

The scene, shot to accompany an upcoming documentary and 2018 feature film, depicts the tragic massacre of fifteen Mexican-American men accused of taking part in the 1917 Christmas Day raid on the Brite Ranch, which left four dead.

“Most of the historic accounts depict the victims as just dead Mexicans,” said Fort Worth-born director Andrew Shapter of the documentary. “What we want to do is get people to stop and think about and to talk about how, in a single cold, cold evening, an entire village – an entire Texas town – disappeared. My job was to put a human face to it. These aren’t just Mexicans from 100 years ago. They were grandmothers, mothers, daughters, sisters, grandfathers, fathers, sons, and brothers.”

The filmmaker first became interested in the story after having researched the racial and political climate of the Big Bend region in the decade of the Mexican revolution.

“I had heard about a lot of skirmishes and tension between 1910 and 1920, but when I heard about Juan Flores, who had been the lone survivor and lived on for years and was able to tell his story, I just felt like this was a story that had to be told and had to live on,” he said.

Footage of Flores filmed about twenty years ago show Flores telling his story for the first time. The video resonated with Shapter, who used the footage as a jumping-off point to begin the documentary.

(photo by ANDREW SHAPTER) Jessica Lutz takes a photo of Todd Elrod and Ross Edmonds as production vehicles line a dirt road at the Cibolo Creek Ranch set.

(photo by ANDREW SHAPTER)
Jessica Lutz takes a photo of Todd Elrod and Ross Edmonds as production vehicles line a dirt road at the Cibolo Creek Ranch set.

“We’ve always had issues on the border. There will be issues on any border, but this is in our own backyard. What got me was that there’s this history that was covered up, but in the nick of time, right before Flores died, he was able to tell his story,” Shapter told the Big Bend Sentinel. “I wanted to do my part so the story was told from coast to coast.”

Throughout the process of realizing the film, Shapter was able to meet and interview Flores’ descendants, though it was initially difficult to earn their trust.

“It took a while for them to welcome me into their lives,” he said of Flores’ family. “I think once they found out I had a Hispanic wife, they kind of warmed up to me. But it was understandable for them to have distrust because of the massacre. There was definitely a scar. It was not an instantaneous relationship.”

Once the Shapter was able to earn their trust, he said, family members came out of the woodwork to assist in telling the story of their ancestral home.

Some descendants of other victims in massacre, Shapter added, were participants in the Sunday filming.

The documentary, the filmmaker stressed, will also address the cause of the massacre.

“There was a lot of fear and stress in the ranching families around Marfa. What happened was a tragic overreaction. I know there’s a dark cloud over some of these beautiful families, but people descendant from the killers can’t apologize for what they didn’t do,” he said. “I want the film to open a dialogue about not just these killings, but about the context in border politics. It’s not just the fifteen victims at Porvenir. The most important takeaway is that people say it happens on both sides of the border. It’s something that happens all the time on many borders.”

The timing of the filming and release of documentary, he said, was intentionally timed to commemorate the centennial of the massacre, which occurred on January 27, 1918.

“I have never worked this hard on a project in my entire life,” said Shapter, who has directed two other documentaries and on feature film throughout his directing career. “It’s crucial that the 100th year anniversary be an important moment. We have to make sure the victims are always remembered.”

The filming of the scene itself, he added, was a pleasurable experience, professionally speaking.

“What everybody displayed was a filmmakers dream,” he said. “All of the locals from the extras to Robin (Lambaria) and Jessica (Lutz) did a phenomenal job. I’ve never seen better energy on set in my life.”

The project for the feature film, set to be shot in 2018, has already begun in earnest with well-known actors attached to appear and funding being offered.

“I’ve never had seen so much interest in funding a project, it’s usually a struggle,” he said.

The documentary will also see a theatrical release once completed.

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